Scientist Smackdown: Did a Nuclear Blast on Earth Create the Moon?

By Smriti Rao | February 4, 2010 9:38 am

moonHow on Earth did the moon come into being? If you subscribe to the latest theory, the moon was born out of a nuclear explosion on Earth that sent a chunk of mass flying from the planet’s core into orbit, where it finally became the moon. But cool as that sounds, some killjoy scientists are pooh-poohing the hypothesis, calling it “unnecessary,” “nonsensical,” and “not physically sensible.”

The standard theory of the moon’s origin holds that a giant space object, possibly an asteroid, banged into Earth and sent a large piece of the planet flying into space. That piece eventually became the moon. But the composition of the moon doesn’t seem to support this theory. Researchers say if an asteroid or some such object smashed away part of the Earth, the Moon ought to be composed of about 80 percent of that object’s constituent material and about 20 percent of the Earth’s. But the makeup of moon rock closely mirrors that of the Earth [Popular Science].

An alternate theory, known as the fission theory, suggests that the moon spun out of the rapidly spinning blob of molten rock that would later become Earth [Popular Science]. But no one has been able to explain what caused a huge chunk of earth to spin away and become the moon. Now, researchers Rob de Meijer and Wim van Westrenem have proposed in an online paper that centrifugal forces may have concentrated heavy, radioactive elements like uranium and thorium at the boundary between the Earth’s mantle and its core. Then, they propose, a massive nuclear explosion occurred at the edge of Earth’s core, flinging red-hot, liquid rock into space. The orbiting detritus gradually congealed into what is now our planet’s lone satellite [Discovery News].

Such “georeactors” have existed on Earth before, albeit on a smaller scale than these researchers propose. But de Meijer and van Westrenem have gotten little support for their hypothesis, and plenty of scorn.

Geophysicist Marvin Herndon, who has previously espoused the controversial idea that uranium once sunk to the earth’s core and formed a georeactor there, isn’t buying into the new theory. He says he’s skeptical of a georeactor’s existence at the earth’s core-mantle boundary, explaining that uranium is so heavy that when it liquefies in a nuclear reaction, it should fall to the Earth’s core [New Scientist].

Other scientists asked how the researchers had modeled this kind of explosion, as Princeton University astrophysicist Richard Gott pointed out: “How do they really know it would produce a thin jet of matter?” [New Scientist]. Gott adds that if indeed the georeactor hypothesis was right, then Venus, which is similar in mass and composition to Earth, should have formed its own moon in a similar process–but it didn’t. For further evidence, points out to Pluto, asking “how do you explain Charon, the big icy moon of Pluto? That would require an ‘ice-reactor’, which is a nonsensical idea!”[New Scientist]. David Stevenson, a planetary physicist at Caltech, blew the whole theory right back into space, saying: “The whole idea is not physically sensible,” he says. “Life is too short to spend on things like this” [New Scientist].

The researchers, however, aren’t backing down. They say the best way to test this idea is to look for isotopic signatures on the Moon left over from when the “georeactor” exploded. If they’re there, it’s a good chance that Earth once went critical in a huge way, and our ghostly galleon was tossed into the heavens by the world’s first nuclear detonation [Discovery News].

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Image: NASA

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Feature, Space
  • http://drvitelli.typepad.com Romeo Vitelli

    The Apollo missions brought back plenty of moon rocks. Wouldn’t the evidence be there if this theory was plausible?

  • Skwish

    Maybe the Moon’s composition is the way it is because the Earth was the impactor, and like in billiards, it stayed, and the original planet took off on a vector similar to the one the Earth was on.

  • amphiox

    It seems to me that if the impactor formed near earth, it’s composition could presumably be quite similar to earth. If it was large enough relative to earth, then a lot of its material would have also mixed with earth’s after the impact, and the composition of the earth today would reflect this mixture, rather than the original earth.

  • http://clubneko.net nick

    “Venus, which is similar in mass and composition to Earth, ”

    So… if there are two… why couldn’t there have been a third? Maybe there were two objects, each roughly half the mass of the Earth and Moon combined…. that smashed somewhat slowly and crapped out the Moon… which would explain why their compositions are so similar.

  • Snidely Whiplash

    Yeah, maybe if you slowly stuffed another cheetoh chip up your nose, you could change into Chester Cheetah. All plausible possibilities have the Earth here first. Things flying around the sun don’t crash ‘somewhat slowly’.

  • http://philosophiareflextions.blogspot.com Ernie M. Brewer

    I think yeah.

    If a supervolcano or super volcanic eruption, due to the nuclear-reactions occurring at such heats, while the Earths axis was at its former degrees, which launched this ejecta into orbit.

    There have been images more Indian Cosmologists, which shows a diversity of elements through Spectral analysis technologies. And the moon rock donated to British Museum, or whatever, which turned out to be petrified-wood; could be evidence showing that the Earth’s lone satellite was born of the Earth, proverbially.

  • Dave

    Well, let’s look at it this way…

    Maybe there were aliens, and they decided to nuke our planet and send a giant chunck of it into space just to mess with our heads.

    Or maybe there were humans here before us, and they had a nuclear apocalypse…. Then life started over again…. er….

    Actually it was Chuck Norris. He was doing push ups and pushed to moon away…

    I’m going to just say there was some sort of a collision in space. Even though Chuck Norris….

    Although, so to speak, most anything is possible for all we know :)

  • Kenny

    Why the hell is Discover debasing itself with this flimflam, it’s not a peer-reviewed journal but for crying out loud this is the kind of crap you read about in Popular Mechanics. The giant-impact theory isn’t perfect and certainly could use refinement like any theory but ludicrous nonsense shouldn’t be given coverage even in a lay publication.

  • Murray

    I agree with this Kenny fellow. All these fancy new theories that these hotshot young turks come out with aren’t fit to line the cage of a dead canary.

    The universe hasn’t changed, why should the theories? These online blogs should be devoted to the good old theories of my generation. Now those were theories!

    If I wanted to read about “new developments” or “ideas” or “discourse” I would pick up one of those “Cosmopolitans” that them slutty career women read.

  • James

    This is a sad state of affairs when a hypothesis is rejected on the grounds of being “new”, suggested by “hotshots” who’s nationality is “turks”, or because the hypothesis is “fancy”.

    Lets not make the mistake of yearning for the old days. That is not what science is about. Science is about observing, considering the facts, and drawing a conclusion. Science is about progress. Most importantly Science is about discovering the truth to the best of our abilities.

    Don’t mock science by pretending to love the truth but blatantly ignore anything that doesn’t fit in your world view.

    Ernie and Romeo accurately demonstrate the attitude of excellent scientists. They don’t simply reject a hypothesis because it seems ridiculous, they suggest methods of testing the hypothesis.

    Shame on you Murray, and Kenny for posting comments that only detract from the scientific community.

  • Tomato Salad

    @Murray. Shame on you, you made me snort lemonade out my nose and all over my keyboard. Now my spacebar is sticking.

    @James. I think Murry might have been joking.

  • http://www.voy.com/64855/ jorge

    perhaps wht the author is trying to convey in this theory:

    What are the possibilities of a nuclear reaction on earth moving the moon from its present orbit?

    And what are the possibilities that nuclear technology is currently in place on the moon, ready for detonation that will move the moon out of its present orbit?

    And further, what are the possibilites that a nuclear reaction on earth and moon will be synchronized to move the earth or moon from their present orbits?

    It is a well established fact that (Cathie, Seymour, et al) planetary alignments must be in critical alignment before a nuclear test blast. Those alignments present themselves on earth for the next 4 or 5 months (at lunation periods).

    Run your analysis at astro.com, especially the lunations October, November, December and January, and see what you get.

  • http://joepallugna.com Florencio Cardinalli

    These guys are sometimes dead on their political commentary. The Young Turks continue as a interesting perspective. I pray they will continue be corageous enough to tell it like it is and oppose the GOP funded Fox Network propaganda.

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