Scientists find Moon, asteroids share history

March 25, 2013
Scientists have now discovered that studying meteorites from the giant asteroid Vesta helps them understand the event known as the "lunar cataclysm," when a repositioning of the gas giant planets destabilized a portion of the asteroid belt and triggered a solar-system-wide bombardment. Image credit: NASA/GSFC/ASU/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

( —NASA and international researchers have discovered that Earth's moon has more in common than previously thought with large asteroids roaming our solar system.

Scientists from NASA's Lunar Science Institute (NLSI) in Moffett Field, Calif., discovered that the same population of high-speed projectiles that impacted our lunar neighbor four billion years ago, also hit the giant asteroid Vesta and perhaps other large asteroids.

The research unveils an unexpected link between Vesta and the moon, and provides new means for studying the early bombardment history of . The findings are published in the March issue of Nature Geoscience.

"It's always intriguing when interdisciplinary research changes the way we understand the history of our solar system," said Yvonne Pendleton, NLSI director. "Although the moon is located far from Vesta, which is in the between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, they seem to share some of the same bombardment history."

The findings support the theory that the repositioning of gas giant planets like Jupiter and Saturn from their original orbits to their current location destabilized portions of the asteroid belt and triggered a solar system-wide bombardment of asteroids billions of years ago, called the lunar cataclysm.

The research provides new constraints on the start and duration of the lunar cataclysm, and demonstrates that the cataclysm was an event that affected not only the planets, but the asteroid belt as well.

The brought back by NASA have long been used to study the bombardment history of the moon. Now the ages derived from have been used to study the collisional history of main belt asteroids. In particular, howardite and eucrite meteorites, which are common species found on Earth, have been used to study , their parent body. With the aid of , researchers determined that meteorites from Vesta recorded high-speed impacts which are now long gone.

Researchers have linked these two datasets and found that the same population of projectiles responsible for making craters and basins on the moon were also hitting Vesta at very high velocities, enough to leave behind a number of telltale, impact-related ages.

The team's interpretation of the howardites and eucrites was augmented by recent close-in observations of Vesta's surface by NASA's Dawn spacecraft. In addition, the team used the latest dynamical models of early main belt evolution to discover the likely source of these high velocity impactors. The team determined that the population of projectiles that hit Vesta had orbits that also enabled some objects to strike the moon at high speeds.

"It appears that the asteroidal meteorites show signs of the losing a lot of mass four billion years ago, with the escaped mass beating up on both the surviving main belt asteroids and the moon at high speeds" says lead author Simone Marchi, who has a joint appointment between two of NASA's Lunar Science Institutes, one at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and another at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. "Our research not only supports the current theory, but it takes it to the next level of understanding."

Explore further: Asteroid collision that spawned Vesta's asteroid family occurred more recently than thought

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5 / 5 (1) Mar 25, 2013
Lunar cataclysm? Is this the same as the Late Heavy Bombardment or something different?
2.3 / 5 (3) Mar 25, 2013
Lunar cataclysm? Is this the same as the Late Heavy Bombardment or something different?

I'm sure I don't know, but it sounds like it wasn't a good thing? At least "late heavy bombardment" suggests what may be being described.

Now I'd like to know if it was the "late", "middle" or "early" lunar cataclysmic.
5 / 5 (2) Mar 25, 2013
I think the real value of this is that the moon contains the same materials as the asteroids. Duh. So, mining the moon may be far easier and more profitable than tracking down an asteroid, mining it, and moving the refined materials to the Earth-Moon system for use. Just get to the moon and look for a crater.

Kickstarter project, anyone?
1 / 5 (6) Mar 26, 2013
What caused the repositioning of the gas giants? That would be quite the event in a gravitational system. The theory reminds me of a cartoon (big bang too.)

If the Sun is an electrodynamic system (the helical nature of the Sun and planetary orbits supports this) a realignment of several planets and moons within the system could be easily explained by the appearance of an new entity or a sudden change in solar output.
3.5 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2013
I'm sure the moon has a lot in common with asteroids, its been colliding with them for a long time, there has to be a little bit of asteroid dust all over the moon.
3.9 / 5 (7) Mar 26, 2013
If the Sun is an electrodynamic system

Its not, so that ends that.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2013
Vesta, through the HEDs but also directly through the Dawn mission, is a veritable treasure trove for understanding Earth-Moon. Here it is confirming and possibly narrowing the timing of the Late bombardment.

But Dawn also showed that the Vesta asymmetry was caused by two large impactors,and that it was revolving slowly if at all during the first impact. This is analogous to the simplest, least finetuned, of the two modern Tellus-Theia impact models that gets the composition of the Moon correct. (Roughly the same composition as Earth,but some volatiles boiled off as witnessed by zink isotopes). It is the one were two roughly equally large impactors hit at low velocity and mutually slow if at all revolution.

One can predict that randomized planetoid accretion before the last stage of large and/or fast impactors summed rotational velocities to virtually zero as expected. And that Tellus & Theia most likely shared the same orbit, as in the original impact hypothesis.
5 / 5 (2) Mar 26, 2013
@Maggnus: Indeed, it is predicted to be the LHB (or LB for short), as witnessed by the datings of Moon cratering. The Moon most likely had a short period with many impacts at around 4 Ga bp, and that is the consensus. (But some of the datings are still open to reinterpretation; we need to get back to the Moon).

@GDM: The Moon contains the same material as the Earth, while both got their crust resupplied with so called "rare earths" from the differently composited asteroids. (Mostly, comets were contributing less material as observed by D/H ratios.) Don't expect the Moon to contain the same enriched ores that geosphere (plate tectonics) and biosphere (say, fosfor minerals) processes supplied on Earth.

@cantdrive: The Sun is observably not "an electrodynamic system", it is "a strong force system" (fusion). It is science illiteracy to suggest what we all know isn't.

The re-position of Jupiter and Saturn is also well known as a result of a 2:1 resonance, see the Nice model.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2013
@ Torbjorn - yea the dates are right (approc 4BYA) and the discreption of the event as a "lunar catalysm" would suggest to me the LHB, I've just never before heard the term "lunar catalysm" used in this context before. I tried to look at the paper, but its hidden behind layers of sites. If anyone can link the actual paper, I'd be appreciative.

The Nice model is one, the Zhang-Zhou models suggest it could have been a 3:2 or a 2:1.
5 / 5 (1) Mar 26, 2013
Interesting - in reviewing the Nice papers, I found the term "lunar cataclysm" used several times. It appears to me to be an archaic term arising from the early 70's when the clustering of ages of the melt breccia's on the moon was discovered. I suggest the term fell out of favour when it was realized the Moon was not alone in being struck during this period, and the term "Late Heavy Bombardment" was coined to describe this era of the solar system's development.
1 / 5 (3) Mar 26, 2013
The re-position of Jupiter and Saturn is also well known as a result of a 2:1 resonance, see the Nice model.

As I pointed out, all it needs is a miracle!

5 / 5 (3) Mar 27, 2013
The re-position of Jupiter and Saturn is also well known as a result of a 2:1 resonance, see the Nice model.

As I pointed out, all it needs is a miracle!

Translation: I'm cantdrive85 and I'm unwilling to admit I don't know the basic math it would require to understand the Nice model.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 30, 2013
Vega has an asteroid belt - and a planet with a peculiar orbit which has a period of 2,200 years. We could learn about our solar system formation from studying the history of that solar system, if we could regress the orbits of her planets over time.

If anything, this article vindicates the theory that the moon and asteroid belt are products of the same cataclysmic event.

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