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The Moon Earth Machine

Was the perfectly functioning "Earth-Moon machine" a design, or an accident? Here's something you didn't learn in school: Whichever one it was, a new chemical analysis of the lunar material titanium collected by Apollo astronauts in the 1970s conflicts with the widely held theory that a giant collision between Earth and a Mars-sized object gave birth to the moon 4.5 billion years ago.

In the giant-collision scenario, computer simulations suggest that the moon had two parents, but a comparative analysis of titanium from the moon, Earth and meteorites indicates the moon’s material came from Earth alone. Geophysicist Nicolas Dauphas says, "(The moon is) a child with only one parent, as far as we can tell."

Titanium also contains different isotopic signatures forged in countless stellar explosions that occurred before the sun’s birth. These explosions flung subtly different titanium isotopes into interstellar space. Different objects in the newly forming solar system gobbled up those isotopes in different ways through collisions, leaving clues that let scientists infer where the solar materials including the moon came from.

Dauphas says, "When we look at different bodies, different asteroids, there are different isotopic signatures. It's like their different DNAs." Meteorites, which are pieces of asteroids that have fallen to Earth, contain large variations in titanium isotopes. Measurements of terrestrial and lunar samples show that "the moon has a strictly identical isotopic composition to the Earth."

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