Moon origin story had a major impact on the Earth's atmosphere


Earth formed around 4.5 billion years ago. In the surrounding chaos of this younger universe, our planet survived several impacts from massive bodies.

One of those collisions may have birthed the Moon. And new research reveals it may also have cost the Earth a portion of its atmosphere.


In a study recreating the Earth's early history, scientists argue an ancient collision with another object in space may have caused Earth to lose somewhere between 10 to 60 percent of its atmosphere.

NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Previous research has suggested collisions of this kind during the late stages of a planet's formation period can affect its atmosphere.

In the new study, researchers ran more than 300 computer simulations of massive objects colliding with rocky planets with thin atmospheres, like Earth.

Jacob Kegerreis, Durham University

Following the impact which likely created the Moon, the Earth lost a significant portion of its atmosphere, according to their simulations.


Around 4 billion years ago, scientists theorize a massive object the size of Mars, dubbed Theia, collided with a young, developing Earth.

The collision tossed vaporized particles from Earth into space. These particles bound together to form the Moon.


The impact hypothesis is one of three main theories of how the Moon formed.


This study not only offers scientists new insight on how the Moon may have formed, but also details a novel way to study the effects of similar collisions on the atmospheres of young, rocky planets like the Earth.


These impacts can have different consequences on the fate of a planet's atmosphere depending on the angle and speed at which the objects hit the planet, as well as the size and mass of the colliding object, the research suggests.


To be habitable, a planet’s atmosphere needs to be thick enough to transfer heat and offer insulation. If the Earth didn’t have its atmosphere, the temperature at the surface would be as low as -20 degrees Celsius.

In this way, the objects that collided with a young Earth had a major, lasting effect on life as we know it.

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