Collisionless encounters and the origin of the lunar inclination

Status Report From: e-Print archive
Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2016


Kaveh Pahlevan, Alessandro Morbidelli
(Submitted on 21 Mar 2016)

The Moon is generally thought to have formed from the debris ejected by the impact of a planet-sized object with the proto-Earth towards the end of planetary accretion. Modeling of the impact process predicts that the lunar material was disaggregated into a circumplanetary disk and that lunar accretion subsequently placed the Moon in a near equatorial orbit. Forward integration of the lunar orbit from this initial state predicts a modern inclination at least an order of magnitude smaller than the lunar value, a long-standing discrepancy known as the lunar inclination problem. Here we show that the modern lunar orbit provides a sensitive record of gravitational interactions with Earth-crossing planetesimals not yet accreted at the time of the Moon-forming event.

The excited lunar orbit can naturally be reproduced via interaction with a small quantity of mass (corresponding to 0.0075-0.015 ME eventually accreted to the Earth) carried by a few bodies, consistent with constraints and models of late accretion. While the process has a stochastic element, the observed value of the lunar inclination is among the most likely outcomes for a wide range of parameters. The excitation of the lunar orbit is most readily reproduced via collisionless encounters with strong tidal dissipation on the early Earth. This mechanism obviates the necessity of previously proposed (but idealized) excitation mechanisms and can constrain the planet formation context of the Moon-forming event and the pristineness of the dynamical state of the Earth-Moon system.

Comments: 24 pages, 6 figures
Subjects: Earth and Planetary Astrophysics (astro-ph.EP)
Journal reference: Nature, 527, 492-494 (2015)
DOI: 10.1038/nature16137
Cite as: arXiv:1603.06515 [astro-ph.EP] (or arXiv:1603.06515v1 [astro-ph.EP] for this version)
Submission history
From: Kaveh Pahlevan
[v1] Mon, 21 Mar 2016 17:49:03 GMT (959kb)

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