It's a satellite!

Watch: Stunning visualizations reveal the Moon's violent birth

Scientists visualize how Earth’s satellite sloshed into existence.

Dr Jacob Kegerreis

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Though it lacks an atmosphere and can’t sustain life, the Moon still has a lot in common with Earth.

The two celestial bodies have an interconnected origin story — one that researchers are still trying to unravel.

Rocks on the Moon and Earth are often similar in their mineral compositions, meaning that both bodies were likely part of the same ancient space object.

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Many researchers hypothesize that the Moon was created when a huge celestial body impacted early Earth, spewing debris that would form a satellite.

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But whether the Moon formed little by little or all at once remains an open question.

This week, newly-published models reveal how the Moon’s birth could have played out.

All About Space Magazine/Future/Getty Images

Dr Jacob Kegerreis

A team of scientists simulated the collision between Earth and a second celestial body, Theia, in stunning detail for a study in the Astrophysical Journal Letters.

This collision would have happened roughly 4.5 billion years ago in the extremely hot early Solar System when Earth’s surface was molten and malleable.

Dr Jacob Kegerreis

The researchers ran roughly 400 simulations to estimate which outcomes would be most likely after a high-impact celestial collision, taking into account historical conditions.

Dr Jacob Kegerreis

In this detailed view, Theia slams into Earth and is mostly sucked in by the young planet’s gravity.

Dr Jacob Kegerreis

But a big blob of matter escapes gravity’s pull, and later finds itself in orbit around Earth — becoming our planet’s loyal satellite.

Dr Jacob Kegerreis

The scientists found that an impact between Earth and Theia could have birthed a huge chunk of the Moon all at once, rather than the satellite slowly accumulating pieces over time.

Lesa Dalton / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images

Dr Jacob Kegerreis

Its outer layers would have been composed of more material from Earth than Theia, which helps explain why today’s Moon rocks are so similar to ones on Earth.

Dr Jacob Kegerreis

“This formation route could help explain the similarity in isotopic composition between the lunar rocks returned by the Apollo astronauts and Earth’s mantle. There may also be observable consequences for the thickness of the lunar crust, which would allow us to pin down further the type of collision that took place.”

-Vincent Eke, study author, in a statement.