Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting nature.com. You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

A primordial origin for the compositional similarity between the Earth and the Moon

Abstract

Most of the properties of the Earth–Moon system can be explained by a collision between a planetary embryo (giant impactor) and the growing Earth late in the accretion process1,2,3. Simulations show that most of the material that eventually aggregates to form the Moon originates from the impactor1,4,5. However, analysis of the terrestrial and lunar isotopic compositions show them to be highly similar6,7,8,9,10,11. In contrast, the compositions of other Solar System bodies are significantly different from those of the Earth and Moon12,13,14, suggesting that different Solar System bodies have distinct compositions. This challenges the giant impact scenario, because the Moon-forming impactor must then also be thought to have a composition different from that of the proto-Earth. Here we track the feeding zones of growing planets in a suite of simulations of planetary accretion15, to measure the composition of Moon-forming impactors. We find that different planets formed in the same simulation have distinct compositions, but the compositions of giant impactors are statistically more similar to the planets they impact. A large fraction of planet–impactor pairs have almost identical compositions. Thus, the similarity in composition between the Earth and Moon could be a natural consequence of a late giant impact.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

$32.00

All prices are NET prices.

Figure 1: The distribution of planetesimals composing the planet and the impactor.
Figure 2: The cumulative distribution of the absolute Δ17O differences between planets and their last giant impactors (blue), compared with the differences between planets in the same system (red).

References

  1. Canup, R. M. & Asphaug, E. Origin of the Moon in a giant impact near the end of the Earth’s formation. Nature 412, 708–712 (2001)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Agnor, C. B., Canup, R. M. & Levison, H. F. On the character and consequences of large impacts in the late stage of terrestrial planet formation. Icarus 142, 219–237 (1999)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  3. Jacobson, S. A. & Morbidelli, A. Lunar and terrestrial planet formation in the Grand Tack scenario. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A 372, 20130174 (2014)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Canup, R. M. Simulations of a late lunar-forming impact. Icarus 168, 433–456 (2004)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Canup, R. M. Lunar-forming collisions with pre-impact rotation. Icarus 196, 518–538 (2008)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  6. Ringwood, A. E. Terrestrial origin of the moon. Nature 322, 323–328 (1986)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Lugmair, G. W. & Shukolyukov, A. Early solar system timescales according to 53Mn-53Cr systematics. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 62, 2863–2886 (1998)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Wiechert, U. et al. Oxygen isotopes and the Moon-forming giant impact. Science 294, 345–348 (2001)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Touboul, M., Kleine, T., Bourdon, B., Palme, H. & Wieler, R. Late formation and prolonged differentiation of the Moon inferred from W isotopes in lunar metals. Nature 450, 1206–1209 (2007)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Zhang, J., Dauphas, N., Davis, A. M., Leya, I. & Fedkin, A. The proto-Earth as a significant source of lunar material. Nature Geosci. 5, 251–255 (2012)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  11. Herwartz, D., Pack, A., Friedrichs, B. & Bischoff, A. Identification of the giant impactor Theia in lunar rocks. Science 344, 1146–1150 (2014)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Franchi, I. A., Wright, I. P., Sexton, A. S. & Pillinger, C. T. The oxygen-isotopic composition of Earth and Mars. Meteorit. Planet. Sci. 34, 657–661 (1999)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  13. Clayton, R. N. & Mayeda, T. K. Oxygen isotope studies of achondrites. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 60, 1999–2017 (1996)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  14. Asphaug, E. Impact origin of the Moon? Annu. Rev. Earth Planet. Sci. 42, 551–578 (2014)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Raymond, S. N., O’Brien, D. P., Morbidelli, A. & Kaib, N. A. Building the terrestrial planets: constrained accretion in the inner Solar System. Icarus 203, 644–662 (2009)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  16. Ćuk, M. & Stewart, S. T. Making the Moon from a fast-spinning Earth: a giant impact followed by resonant despinning. Science 338, 1047–1052 (2012)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  17. Canup, R. M. Forming a Moon with an Earth-like composition via a giant impact. Science 338, 1052–1055 (2012)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  18. Chambers, J. E. A hybrid symplectic integrator that permits close encounters between massive bodies. Mon. Not. R. Astron. Soc. 304, 793–799 (1999)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  19. Raymond, S. N., Kokubo, E., Morbidelli, A., Morishima, R. & Walsh, K. J. Terrestrial planet formation at home and abroad. In Protostars and Planets VI (eds Beuther, H., Klessen, R., Dullemond, C. & Henning, Th.), 585–618 (University of Arizona Press, 2014)

    Google Scholar 

  20. Raymond, S. N., Quinn, T. & Lunine, J. I. High-resolution simulations of the final assembly of Earth-like planets. I. Terrestrial accretion and dynamics. Icarus 183, 265–282 (2006)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  21. Pahlevan, K. & Stevenson, D. J. Equilibration in the aftermath of the lunar-forming giant impact. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 262, 438–449 (2007)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  22. Belbruno, E. & Gott, J. R., III Where did the Moon come from? Astron. J. 129, 1724–1745 (2005)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  23. Salmon, J. & Canup, R. M. Lunar accretion from a Roche-interior fluid disk. Astrophys. J. 760, 83 (2012)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  24. Reufer, A., Meier, M. M. M., Benz, W. & Wieler, R. A hit-and-run giant impact scenario. Icarus 221, 296–299 (2012)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  25. Dauphas, N., Burkhardt, C., Warren, P. & Teng, F.-Z. Geochemical arguments for an Earth-like Moon-forming impactor. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. Lond. A 372, 20130244 (2014)

    Article  ADS  Google Scholar 

  26. Elliott, T. & Stewart, S. T. Planetary science: shadows cast on Moon’s origin. Nature 504, 90–91 (2013)

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

H.B.P. acknowledges support from BSF grant number 2012384, the Minerva Center for Life under Extreme Planetary Conditions, the ISF I-CORE grant number 1829/12 and the Marie Curie IRG 333644 ‘GRAND’ grant. S.N.R. acknowledges funding from the Agence Nationale pour la Recherche via grant ANR-13-BS05-0003-002 (project MOJO). We thank O. Aharonson for remarks on an early version of this manuscript. We thank N. Kaib and N. Cowan for helpful discussions on their related work.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

A.M.-B. analysed the simulation data and produced the main results; H.B.P. initiated and supervised the project and took part in the data analysis. S.N.R. provided the simulation data used for the analysis. The paper was written by A.M.-B. and H.B.P. with contributions from S.N.R.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Alessandra Mastrobuono-Battisti or Hagai B. Perets.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 The cumulative distribution of the planetesimals composing the planet (red) and the impactor (blue).

All planet–impactor pairs in Table 1 are shown, cases 1–12 (panels al), including the cumulative distributions corresponding to the histograms in Fig. 1.

Extended Data Figure 2 The cumulative distribution of the planetesimals composing the planet (red) and the impactor (blue).

All planet–impactor pairs in Table 1 are shown, cases 13–20 (panels mt).

Extended Data Figure 3 The cumulative distributions of the compositions of planets and last impactors assuming 0% mixing between Earth and Moon material.

The cumulative distribution of the absolute Δ17O differences between planets and their last giant impactors (blue), compared with the differences between planets in the same system (red), assuming 0% mixing between Earth and Moon material. From the top left panel (a) to the bottom right panel (f) we consider all the systems, regardless of the number of particles that contributed to their formation, and planets and last impactors composed of a minimum of 10, 20, 40 and 50 particles. Only last impactors with mass >0.5MMars have been taken into account.

Extended Data Figure 4 The cumulative distributions of the compositions of planets and last impactors assuming 20% mixing between Earth and Moon material.

The cumulative distribution of the absolute Δ17O differences between planets and their last giant impactors (blue), compared with the differences between planets in the same system (red), assuming 20% mixing between Earth and Moon material. From the top left panel (a) to the bottom right panel (f) we consider all the systems, regardless of the number of particles that contributed to their formation, and planets and last impactors composed of a minimum of 10, 20, 40 and 50 particles. Only last impactors with mass >0.5MMars have been taken into account.

Extended Data Figure 5 The cumulative distributions of the compositions of planets and last impactors assuming 40% mixing between Earth and Moon material.

The cumulative distribution of the absolute Δ17O differences between planets and their last giant impactors (blue), compared with the differences between planets in the same system (red), assuming 40% mixing between Earth and Moon material. From the top left panel (a) to the bottom right panel (f) we consider all the systems, regardless of the number of particles that contributed to their formation, and planets and last impactors composed of a minimum of 10, 20, 40 and 50 particles. Only last impactors with mass >0.5MMars have been taken into account.

Extended Data Table 1 The mean fraction of last impactors with a composition compatible with the planet they impact
Extended Data Table 2 The mean fraction of planet–impactor consistent pairs

Related audio

Supplementary information

Supplementary Tables

This file contains Supplementary Table 1. (PDF 109 kb)

PowerPoint slides

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Mastrobuono-Battisti, A., Perets, H. & Raymond, S. A primordial origin for the compositional similarity between the Earth and the Moon. Nature 520, 212–215 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14333

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature14333

This article is cited by

Comments

By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing