Moon Myths and Reality

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When cavemen looked up into the night sky, they couldn’t help but wonder how the shining moon came to be.

All around the world, people have attempted to explain the origin of the Earth’s closest celestial companion. In Africa, Bantu tribes believed the great god Bumba had a stomach ache and vomited up the sun, moon, planets and stars.

The Wahungwe of Zimbabwe imagined the god Maori created the first man, Mwuetsi, who became the moon, while the Dogon said it was an earthenware bowl fashioned by the supreme god Amma.

Filipinos once thought the moon was a silver crescent comb and the stars were necklaces of diamonds. To Egyptians, the moon was the left eye of the god Horus and the sun was his right eye. The abundance of lunar origin stories is as great as human imagination.

The Giant Impact Theory

One of the more modern stories told of the moon’s origin is the giant impact theory. It states that a planet called Theia once followed the same orbit as the Earth, but with a 60-degree variance. By the time Theia had grown to be about the same size as Mars, it was too heavy to remain stable in its orbit, which led to it crashing into our planet.

The collision would have taken place four and a half billion years ago. When Theia hit the Earth, it was destroyed. This forced a large segment of the Earth’s silicate mantle into space. The materials from the Earth eventually mixed with the materials from Theia to form the moon.

Looking for Evidence

Scientists from the University of California, Oxford University, and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology attempted to validate the giant impact hypothesis by comparing silicon isotopes from rocks on the Earth and material from our solar system.

The researchers found that the moon showed a similar composition of silicon isotopes found on Earth, but with only about one percent of the Earth’s mass. This makes it highly unlikely that it could generate enough pressure to form an iron core like that found on Earth. However, the center of the moon does have this core type. Perhaps the iron was provided by Theia.

Debunking the Theory

Now, it appears that new research conducted at the University of Chicago Origins Lab may be disproving the giant impact hypothesis about the moon’s creation. When scientists recently compared titanium isotopes from the Earth and the moon, they were too closely matched to be able to support the belief that the moon is partially made from materials from another planet.

The majority of scientists agree that if the moon was formed as a result of a planet hitting the Earth, then the moon should also be made up of some of this other planet—probably as much as 40 percent—but that is apparently not the case.

Yesterday’s reality has become today’s myth while today’s reality is likely to become tomorrow’s myth. The mysterious moon will not reveal its secrets easily, and the hunt for a compelling explanation of its origin continues.

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Lex Cavemen

LEX is the scientist. He is obsessed with understanding why and how the world around him works the way it does.

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