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May 17, 2019

China’s Chang’E-4 may have landed near pieces of the Moon’s interior

Enlarge / The original Yutu rover, shown on the Moon. (credit: NASA)

While some of the details are still being worked out, it’s generally agreed that the Moon formed when a Mars-sized body collided with the early Earth. Some of the debris put into orbit by the collision would then go on to condense into the Moon.

One of the consequences of this is that the early Moon spent a lot of its history being bombarded by this debris, a process that should have left its surface molten. This magma ocean would only solidify slowly as the bombardment wound down, and the process of solidification should have left a mark on the [...]

 
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May 17, 2019

China’s Chang’E-4 may have landed near pieces of the Moon’s interior

Enlarge / The original Yutu rover, shown on the Moon. (credit: NASA)

While some of the details are still being worked out, it’s generally agreed that the Moon formed when a Mars-sized body collided with the early Earth. Some of the debris put into orbit by the collision would then go on to condense into the Moon.

One of the consequences of this is that the early Moon spent a lot of its history being bombarded by this debris, a process that should have left its surface molten. This magma ocean would only solidify slowly as the bombardment wound down, and the process of solidification should have left a mark on the [...]

 
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April 30, 2019

Impact that formed the Moon might have splashed into Earth’s magma ocean

Enlarge / An early version of the collision model, showing a head-on impact.

The Earth and its moon are unique in our Solar System. Earth is the only rocky planet with a large moon, and only the dwarf planet Pluto has a moon that’s so similar in size to its host planet. The Moon is also remarkably similar to the Earth in terms of its composition, suggesting they formed from the same pool of material instead of the Moon forming elsewhere and having been captured.

This collection of properties led to a number of ideas about how the Moon formed, all of which failed to fit the data in various ways. Eventually, however, [...]

 
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March 17, 2019

500 million years of climate history pinned on plate tectonics

Enlarge / Indonesia’s Paluweh volcano sits in a region of colliding tectonic plates—perhaps the formula for glacial periods in geologic history. (credit: Robert Simmon/NASA Earth Observatory)

Generally speaking, it’s easy enough to make sense of the last few million years of climate patterns—the world looked much as it does today, so changes in greenhouse gas concentrations or ocean circulation can be related to what we see now. But as you go back farther in time, you can find very different climates and a rearranged map of continents, and those require more creative thinking.

For example, the ice age periods in the [...]

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