Saturday, June 2, 2012

Active Site!

Welcome! My first book is a labor of love and a product of my personal challenge to solve The World's Most Intractable Problems. From Blue Giant to Blue Marble is my attempt to find an answer to the ancient mystery of "Where do we come from?".

I also wanted to write this book in a style that most people could enjoy. Chapter 2 is a bit heavy on the science - persevere and you will be rewarded!

What follows are 9 Chapters from my book From Blue Giant to Blue Marble. If you're intrigued by what you read, why not purchase a copy to get the WHOLE story?

Please take the time to comment - or at least vote in the survey (icons on Right). Enjoy.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Introduction - From Blue Giant to Blue Marble



The Solar System Story by Christopher Richard Rampson

Published by Christopher Richard Rampson Detroit Michigan, USA

Blog site: -- Purchase this book at:
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Copyright © 2009 Christopher Richard Rampson - All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in review, without permission in writing from the author/publisher.

ISBN 1-449567-69-X
EAN-13 9781449567699

First Edition Printed in the US by

Most of the pictures and some of the text of this book have come from Specifically from the following articles:

Star, Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Moon, Mars, Asteroid Belt, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto, Kuiper Belt, Comet_Shoemaker-Levy_9, Multiple Star, Supernova, Supernova Remnant, Cannon, Giant Impact Hypothesis, Neutron Star, Nova, White Dwarf, Red Giant, Blue Giant, Planetary Nebula, and many more.

Wikipedia has been a great reference for my research. Most of Wikipedia's text and many of its images are dual-licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 3.0 Unported License (CC-BY-SA) and the GNU Free Documentation License (GFDL)

NASA copyright policy states that "NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted". (NASA copyright policy page or JPL Image Use Policy

Cover Image



I met Douglas Adams once (it was at a book signing in Ann Arbor in the mid 80's). The man was larger than life, and when I say that he was larger than life - I mean literally. He had an enormous head that was punctuated with his thick curly black hair. His hands had equally gigantic proportions - he must have had quite some difficulty in using a keyboard (an affliction that I am well acquainted with). With a stroke of a pen he created my most prized literary possession - a 1st edition (now autographed) copy of So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. Our entire conversation consisted of "Hi" and "Bye", but I was struck by his calm assertiveness and the way he carried himself (I had plenty of time to observe him as I waited in line for what seemed an eternity).

Although he is known as a humorist, his seemingly "ridiculous" characters and situations in his widely acclaimed Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (5 book) Trilogy (I highly recommend it) were more than comedic genius. They were key to my own exploration of Astronomy. His approach to the cosmos inspired me greatly and I will utilize his genius to find The Question to the answer of (What is) Life, the Universe and Everything.

I never met Carl Sagan, but I do share his birthday. He created the most important public television series of all time - Cosmos. His soothing voice and genuine excitement for Astronomy make this program a must see for all ages. He was able to explain many scientific theories and present data in a very easy to understand (and never boring) format. I think he will always be remembered for his "billions and billions" sound bite which epitomized his sheer delight at the Cosmos topics.

Sagan's influence on me was profound. I had always been an Astronomy buff, and seeing Cosmos (when I was in my teens) piqued my curiosity. So much was known about the Universe, but so much was still unanswered. He made me want to know more - and thus became the driving force behind my many years of pondering the cosmos. My greatest hope is to be considered on par with him and his accomplishments.

My best friend Lance Reinhardt was probably the greatest influence on me. He taught me strength (his 31 years as a quadriplegic without ever being depressed about it). He taught me faith (you can believe in god without having to deal with organized religion). He taught me patience (nothing happens quickly when you’re a quad). He brought me back from despair and gave me a reason to live. This book is for you Lance.

Thank all of you Douglas, Carl and Lance -
may you all rest in peace.



Where do we come from? This is arguably the most important question facing all of mankind. Over the years, many have attempted to explain the when, where, and how of existence. The Bible's Book of Genesis attempts to do this and Douglas Adams' own "What is Life, the Universe and Everything?" question posed to Deep Thought put his own spin on this conundrum (you need to read the Hitchhiker's trilogy to find the answer to that question . . .).

This question really has 2 parts - What happened before life existed, and the history of life (forms). Charles Darwin's theory of evolution does a great job of addressing the latter, but scientists have done a poor job of addressing the former. There is the Big Bang Theory about how the Universe started - but from that point on to where Mr. Darwin picks it up there are unsatisfying theories with many holes.

This book attempts to explain the chronology of our Solar System - from the Big Bang to the emergence of life on Earth.

I approach this investigation from my background in Geology (B.S. University of Michigan '85), which allows me to understand planetary processes (and exploration). My lifelong fascination with "space" and its stars and planets give me the interest and drive to create a workable theory. I think of myself as "The stupidest genius" i.e. I am smart enough to be invited to a MENSA party of geniuses - but everyone there would consider me the "dumb one" (or more correctly, the slow one) in the room. My greatest strength is my analysis skills - I am a problem solver, and I consider this investigation to be a great opportunity to test my skills. In the end, it took me years of research, thinking and bouncing ideas off of others to come up with this book (and theory). You would think that with all of the scientific geniuses of Astronomy and (Planetary) Physics that have ever lived, we would already have this theory. Who am I to challenge these titans, and what makes my theory the best (so far)?

First you must understand how things work in the (educational) scientific community. It all starts with a prospective PhD student who must choose a topic for his dissertation that is original (NOTE: I am using "his" as a generic. There are many fine female students that do great work in the sciences, and I highly encourage more to enter this field). In other words, his research must have never been done before by anyone. He spends a few years collecting data and crafting his dissertation, and when he is ready to graduate, he must defend his dissertation from a panel of questioners (with "high" credentials in his area of study). He must be the expert in his area, or he will not graduate.

A student cannot become an expert at everything, which is what would be required of him if he chooses too broad a scope for his research. He would not be able to defend such a dissertation from his questioners. This means that students usually choose a very narrow scope (depth of knowledge vs. breadth) to work with. Think of a picture puzzle with thousands of pieces and he chooses (just) one to concentrate on (describe).

Since dissertations are of narrow scope, some of their conclusions contradict (or just don't agree with) other (closely related) theories. No one gets a PhD for rationalizing contradictory theories, so these contradictions are tolerated (ignored) by scientists. Most will assume that future theories will smooth out the inconsistencies - they're just not significant enough to worry about right now. In the meantime, they have their own (narrow) viewpoint to worry about. Everyone has a piece of the puzzle - but no one is looking at them and arraigning them to produce the finished (picture) puzzle.

Personally, I have a dogged determination to make all the pieces fit together. I don't accept the 80/20 rule (80% done is "good enough" - just ignore the 20% that can't ever be figured out). This brings me to my first guiding principle:

Principle 1: The theory must fit ALL of the data

(in this case - observational data).

The Rampson Theory of Solar System Genesis will attempt to use as much observational data as I personally know of (NOTE: Since Celsius named his temperature scale "centigrade" and years after his death it was re-named after him - I figure no matter what I call my theory, if it's right it will be named after me anyway. So I'm not being egotistical here). I do have a good knowledge of astronomical data, but it's up to the reader to decide if I "got it right".

Principle 2: Occam's razor is in effect.

The simplest explanation is probably the correct one.

I will use this principle to guide me when making choices between conflicting data.
A great many scientists postulate that there are other Earth-like planets out there – perhaps with human (like) civilizations. The SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) initiative records radio-wave emanations from many star systems and uses computers to look for patterns that might indicate intelligent alien worlds. For me, in order to “go where no one has gone before”, I need to do something different from past prognosticators on the genesis of the Solar System. This is the “seed” from which my whole theory springs forth.

Assumption 1: The Earth is unique

(i.e. we are alone in the Universe).

Drawing on inspiration from Douglas Adams, this is where I apply the Infinite Improbability "principle". Say that you are sitting in a spaceship (with "Heart") on the other side of the galaxy. First you calculate the chance (probability) that the Earth is unique in the universe. This should be a very large number (roughly one out of every star in the universe). You take this number (call it lue42) and "plug that into" the Infinite Improbability "drive", and poof! , you are transported to the Earth.

What this means is that when I describe my theory, all of the probabilities of the events I describe must have equal probability with lue42. This means that my theory (model) must contain some really unlikely events (bordering on fantasy). It has to be this way (Douglas Adams said so!), so I ask that you suspend your disbeliefs (take a deep breath) and read the entire theory before you consider if I'm right. Just remember that the probability of anything happening in the Universe is greater than zero . . .

A note from the Author

2009 was a very significant year in science. It is the International Year of Astronomy - let me quote from their website ( as to why this is.

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 (IYA2009) is a global celebration of astronomy and its contributions to society and culture and marks the 400th anniversary of the first use of an astronomical telescope by Galileo Galilei. The aim of the Year is to stimulate worldwide interest, especially among young people, in astronomy and science under the central theme "The Universe, Yours to Discover".

2009 is also the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. The amount and quality of scientific data that was collected from this trip is unparalleled in history. This was arguably the greatest achievement of mankind.

2009 is also the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. He is arguably the world's greatest known scientist - and most misunderstood. His procrastination almost kept The Origin of the Species from ever being written / published. I will try to learn from his mistakes -which is one reason that this book is finally being published . . .

It is my greatest wish to honor these anniversaries with my attempt to explain the genesis of the Solar System. I hope this work will stimulate people of all ages to discover Astronomy for themselves. If I achieve either of these goals, then it was well worth it to write this book.

Chapter 1 - The Begining - From Blue Giant to Blue Marble

Before I explain the entirety of my theory I would like to give you (the reader), an opportunity to guess at it. I will help by providing you with the key piece of information that validates my theory. If you have faith in your (personal) scientific methodology and are driven by curiosity, you should be able to derive the theory all by yourself! This won't be easy, but I feel that you should be given a chance to show off your intellect.

All you have to do is take the information that I give you, and use induction (going from the specific to the general) to figure out the timeline of events that created the Solar System we see today. You know that you can do this, and I have faith that you can. Are you ready? The answer is . . . Saturn.

SATURN? Why Saturn? What the heck does that have to do with the creation of the Solar System? How could this information possibly lead to a theory of Solar System genesis?

In order to address these questions, let me be a bit more specific. Saturn has some interesting qualities - chief among them is the strange hexagonal "standing wave" in the clouds of its north pole (it stays in one place as the clouds rotate around it. It does look cool! Check out the video loop on under Saturn). Talk about unusual! What the heck could cause this to happen?

Conundrum 1: Saturn's northern clouds -- The clouds rotate around the pole but the hexagonal "ridges" remain.

Figure 2 Hexagonal clouds in Saturn's northern hemisphere

In addition to the northern clouds, another unusual feature of Saturn is its axial tilt. If you were standing above Saturn's North Pole, you would see that the planet rotates around a point that is not quite where you are standing (the North Pole). This is called the axial tilt, as the planet is actually "tilted" from the straight "up and down" position of the poles.

Figure 3 The Earth's axial tilt (or obliquity) and its relation to the rotation axis and plane of orbit.
Conundrum 2: Saturn's axial tilt -- The planet rotates around its axis which does not go through the poles.

Saturn has an axial tilt of 27 degrees, measured from the angle between the rotation axis and the poles - which is quite similar to Earth's 23 degrees of tilt. This means that Saturn has seasons - somewhat like the Earth.

Scientists believe that the Earth's axial tilt was caused by an impact event (The Big Whack) - and this mechanism is probably the best (only) way to create an axial tilt. If we applied this idea to Saturn, there must have been an object that impacted Saturn that caused it to tilt (makes sense). Saturn is a gas giant - it may not even have a solid core, so what is the impact mechanism that made it tilt?

One last thing. Saturn and Jupiter have a 2:1 orbital resonance. This means that for every orbit Saturn makes around the Sun, Jupiter makes two. No other planets have this kind of "symmetry" in their orbits. Most scientists take this to mean that Saturn and Jupiter came close to each other - and after all the pushing and pulling - they settled into these orbits. Saturn must have moved . . .

It's my belief that there is only one answer that addresses all the observations - and once you have it, you can apply induction / regression to discover and hit upon all of my theory. Are you up to the task?

Of course I didn't start there myself . . .

In order to understand The Rampson Theory of Solar System Genesis, you need to understand some background information on how stars form and die. This star making process is continuous i.e. it happened before, it's happening now and it will happen in the future. Here is the basic process:

How to make a star and then blow it up


In order to make a star, you need start with a cloud of gas rich in hydrogen. Each gas particle in the cloud has mass - and thus gravity, so over time this gravity starts to pull the particles together. As this process continues, the center of the gas cloud gets more and more dense. Eventually the particles are as close as they can physically get (they are touching each other) - but gravity continues to (try and) pull them closer. This builds up pressure (and heat) until finally 2 particles are squeezed together into one.

This is fusion - where 2 light-weight particles are forced together to create a single heavier particle plus energy! These 2 particles are typically hydrogen-1 and the heavier particle is helium-2. NOTE: atoms are defined by how many protons they have in their nucleus (called atomic number, signified by the dash and number at the end of the word). Hydrogen only has one proton and is the lightest (in mass) of all elements. For comparison, uranium-92 is very dense and 'heavy" and it has 92 protons per atom. This fusion reaction is what makes stars shine.

This fusion "burning" reaction creates "outward" pressure that counteracts gravity. As long as the star is "shining", it will not "shrink" any further. Stars happily burn (fuse) hydrogen for millions or billions of years (our own Sun has been fusing for 4.7 Gy (billion years) - and is only halfway though its hydrogen supply). But eventually the hydrogen "runs out".

It's not exactly correct to say that a star runs out of hydrogen-1, but the remaining hydrogen is not enough to sustain the fusion reactions. When this fusion stops (or sputters), the star's energy output drops. This energy (outward pressure) was counteracting the gravitational "pull" keeping the particles from getting squeezed even more. When this fusion energy level drops, the star begins to contract as gravity overwhelms all. The star contracts and the pressure (and temperature) goes up again. This continues until fusion begins with this next lightest element (helium-2). The star now starts to "burn" (fuse) helium-2 (with hydrogen-1) to create lithium-3 (and through the "triple-alpha-process" where three helium-2 atoms are combined to create one carbon-6 atom).

Conundrum 3: The scarcity of beryllium-4 and boron-5

The triple-alpha-process "skips over" these 2 "products" - so what process does create them (actually fusing 2 helium-2 atoms to create a beryllium-4 atom is possible but unstable, with the beryllium-4 atom decaying soon afterward)?

This helium-2 fusion phase doesn't last for millions of years - more like a hundred. When the helium-2 runs out, gravity squeezes particles closer together and pressure and temperature go up - and the next heavier particle gets burned (fused). If the star's starting mass is high enough, this process continues until you create nickel-28. Nickel has the highest "bonding energy" - you cannot use fusion to make anything heavier (nickel radioactively decays to iron-26). What you end up with, at the end of this process is a star with (onion) "layers" of different material (lighter on the outside to heavier near the core).

Figure 4 The onion-like layers of a massive, evolved star just prior to core collapse. (Not to scale.)
Eventually gravity squeezes the core of the star into a material called electron degenerate matter.
Degenerate matter is matter which has such very high density that the dominant contribution to its pressure rises from the Pauli Exclusion Principle. The pressure maintained by a body of degenerate matter is called the degeneracy pressure, and arises because the Pauli principle forbids the constituent particles to occupy identical quantum states. Any attempt to force them close enough together that they are not clearly separated by position must place them in different energy levels. Therefore, reducing the volume requires forcing many of the particles into higher-energy quantum states. This requires additional compression force, and is manifest as a resisting pressure. - Wikipedia
Suffice to say that electron degenerate matter has atoms squeezed so close together that electrons cannot jump between orbitals (they are "stuck").

Usually when you increase temperature, particles tend to get more energetic (like boiling water) - i.e. they start moving around, but when you increase the temperature on electron degenerate matter - nothing happens. The heat is trapped and cannot radiate out in any way. Over time, this traps a tremendous amount of heat in the electron degenerate matter.

The star continues to fuse more and more "heavy" (massive) elements into electron degenerate matter, and eventually fusion stops. If the star's core is not sufficiently massive to collapse, the star will eject the gas "envelope" into what is called a planetary nebula, and the core becomes a white dwarf star.

If the star is sufficiently massive, then the core will eventually exceed the Chandrasekhar limit (1.38 solar masses - The Sun = 1 solar mass), at which point this (electron degeneracy pressure) mechanism catastrophically fails. The forces holding atomic nuclei apart in the innermost layer of the core suddenly give way, the core implodes due to its own mass, and no further fusion process can ignite or prevent collapse this time.

The core collapses in on itself with velocities reaching 70,000 km/s (0.23c), resulting in a rapid increase in temperature and density. Electrons and protons merge via electron capture - producing neutrons. The inner core eventually reaches  (typically) 30 km in diameter and a density comparable to that of an atomic nucleus - and further collapse is abruptly stopped by (nuclear) strong force interactions and by (neutron) degeneracy pressure.

This abrupt stop causes a shock wave that propagates outward from the core. This shock wave then transfers energy (by a not well understood process), to the outer layers of the star which then explode in a supernova. When the progenitor star is below about 20 solar masses (depending on the strength of the explosion and the amount of material that falls back), the degenerate remnant of a core collapse is a neutron star. Above this mass the remnant collapses to form a black hole.

Figure 5 Within a massive, evolved star (a) the onion-layered shells of elements undergo fusion, forming an iron core (b) that reaches Chandrasekhar-mass and starts to collapse. The inner part of the core is compressed into neutrons (c), causing infalling material to bounce (d) and form an outward-propagating shock front (red). The shock starts to stall (e), but it is re-invigorated by a process that may include neutrino interaction. The surrounding material is blasted away (f), leaving only a degenerate remnant.

The remnant of a supernova explosion consists of a compact object and a rapidly expanding shock wave of material. This cloud of material sweeps up the surrounding interstellar medium during a free expansion phase, which can last for up to two centuries. The wave then gradually undergoes a period of adiabatic expansion, and will slowly cool and mix with the surrounding interstellar medium over a period of about 10,000 years.

In standard Astronomy, the Big Bang produced hydrogen, helium, and traces of lithium, while all heavier elements are synthesized in stars and supernovae. Supernovae tend to enrich the surrounding interstellar medium with metals, which for astronomers means all of the elements other than hydrogen and helium (and is a different definition than that used in chemistry).

Figure 6 Supernova remnant N 63A lies within a clumpy region of gas and dust in the Large Magellanic Cloud. NASA image.

These injected elements ultimately enrich the molecular clouds that are the sites of star formation. Thus, each stellar generation has a slightly different composition, going from an almost pure mixture of hydrogen and helium to a more metal-rich composition. Supernovae are the dominant mechanism (but not the only one) for distributing these heavier elements, which are formed in a star during its period of nuclear fusion, throughout space. The different abundances of elements in the material that forms a star have important influences on the star's life, and may decisively influence the possibility of having planets orbiting it.

The kinetic energy of an expanding supernova remnant can trigger star formation due to compression of nearby, dense molecular clouds in space. The increase in turbulent pressure can also prevent star formation if the cloud is unable to lose the excess energy.

Evidence from daughter products of short-lived radioactive isotopes shows that a nearby supernova helped determine the composition of the Solar System 4.5 billion years ago, and may even have triggered the formation of this system. Supernova production of heavy elements over astronomic periods of time ultimately made the chemistry of life on Earth possible.

NOTE: Most of the preceding information was taken from Wikipedia.



How the Universe came into being


Let me introduce what I call the Current Scientific Belief (CSB). This acronym represents the most current theories that the majority of the scientific community believe are true (Conventional Wisdom?). This is what I will use to "define" the base from which my theories will diverge.

The CSB is that an infinitesimally small (and dense, and hot) "dot" of matter exploded and created the Universe. This was called The Big Bang and it happened around 13.7 Gya (billion years ago - depending on the value of the Hubble Constant - which varies). The explosion created hydrogen-1 and helium-2 (and some lithium-3) molecules in a huge gas cloud - which quickly expanded and (~1 billion years later) cooled and "condensed" into huge (Hypergiant) stars the size of galaxies (Generation I stars). These stars exploded into supernovas (a couple of billion years later ~11 Gya), leaving behind massive black holes and a variety of elements (still mostly hydrogen-1 and helium-2) in a "gas". The black holes captured this "gas" with their tremendous gravity. As the gas was pulled toward the black hole it heated up and started orbiting (moving around the black hole) faster and faster. This was the genesis of galaxies.

This gas coalesced into stars - mostly blue giants. One of these was the progenitor of our Solar System.

Figure 7 A "standard" sized Blue Giant star compared with our own Sun

9 Gya (billion years ago), this blue giant (call it King) exploded in a supernova, spreading "star stuff" (as Carl Sagan put it) - into a dust cloud called a protoplanetary disk (also called a proplyd).

NOTE: This "star stuff" actually consists of atoms/molecules of different elements - such as iron and calcium, but most of it is hydrogen and helium.

Figure 8 A proplyd in the Orion Nebula

This type of supernova (a type II core-collapse) always creates either a neutron star or a black hole - depending on the starting mass of the star. Assuming that King was below the threshold of mass to generate a black hole (i.e. less than 20 solar masses - 20 Suns) - then there must have been a neutron star created from the supernova of King (call it Spider). Most of these neutron stars are "expelled" from the galaxy, as the force of a supernova can really get a star moving! This is assumed to have happened for Spider.

Figure 9 A Neutron star cross- section (
The proplyd (aka dust cloud) eventually "collapsed" i.e. gravity pulled the dust (molecules) closer and closer together. As the proplyd collapsed, the dust started to orbit the center and move faster and faster (this is like the spinning ice skater pulling in their arms and moving faster). Eventually the dust in the center coalesced into the Sun, and the rest of the dust coalesced into planets. Viola, we now have the Solar System!

This Solar System model should create planets that move faster in their orbit the further you get to the Sun - which is exactly what we see today. The speed (velocity) of the planet Mercury is about 50 km/s while the velocity of Pluto is about 4500 km/s. The speed of the Sun's rotation is about 700 km/h, which is (much) slower than theory predicts.

Conundrum 4: The Sun's angular momentum is too slow
The Sun should be moving (rotating) faster - but it doesn't.

Because of the way a star forms ("onion") layers of different materials before it supernovas, the lightest elements (near the outer edge of the star) tend to "fly" out the furthest, while the heavy elements (near the center) tend to not be blasted too far away. This means that you form light element planets further out (like Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune) while closer to the center you get "terrestrial" planets made of heavy elements (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars).

Conundrum 5: Not a smooth mass distribution in the Solar System

The Sun is made up of light elements - yet it is at the center of the Solar System. The Kuiper Belt (of which Pluto is a member) is made up of relatively heavy (massive) elements even though it is far away from the center.

This means that this simple model doesn't explain all of the features that we see in today's Solar System. So we need to modify this . . .

Chapter 2 - The Moon -- From Blue Giant to Blue Marble

The moon is made of Greene cheese! I never understood that statement as the moon never really looked green to me, but I suppose that someone had to take a stab at what the moon was made of. Despite what poets and philosophers believed, we now know that the moon is made of plagioclase - a calcic feldspar (and some basalt), thanks to the moon rocks that were brought back by the Apollo astronauts.

In order to understand where the Moon came from, scientists needed to know how old it was. This would narrow down the possibilities so that scientists could concentrate on the most likely ones. After using isotopic analysis it was determined that the lunar basalts were the youngest at 3.16 Gy, while the rocks from the "highlands" were 4.6 Gy. This was a very interesting result, since the oldest rocks on the earth are around 3.8 Gy. How in the heck can the moon be "older" than the earth? We'll explore that later.

Measure twice, cut once is the wise "best practice' of carpenters. Taking measurements are important so that you don't make a mistake later. When formulating a scientific theory, there are important things that you need to measure. Weights, distances, velocity, etc. data are all needed to build your scientific model. You need to pick a point of reference (foundation) from which the rest of your theory will take shape.

Figure 11 Buzz Aldrin installing equipment on the Moon (
Apollo 11 was the first manned spacecraft to touch down on the Moon. I remember it well as I was an 8 year old child and I needed to stay up till almost midnight (something that rarely ever happened). Nothing could compare to the excitement I felt watching Neil Armstrong become the first man on the Moon. Now who was that second man? Umm ... .

Anyway, one of the most important (scientific) actions that Neil and Buzz did on the Moon (in 1969) was to hit a golf ball! No, actually it was to plant a retroreflector. A retroreflector is basically a large mirror which is used for laser rangefinding i.e. you shoot a laser from the Earth to the Moon and by timing the return (reflected) beam you can determine the distance to the Moon (with a high degree of accuracy).

This range finding has been going on continuously since 1969, and we now know that the Moon is moving away from the Earth at 38mm (1.5 inch) per year.

This is an unique measurement! You cannot make this (direct) measurement (distance vs. time) ANYWHERE else in the Solar System. For instance, if you landed on Mars and installed a retroreflector, you could measure the distance from Earth to Mars. But if you wanted to know if Mars is moving away from the Earth, you would have to add estimates into the calculation (time of day, time of year, where Earth and Mars are in relation with each other). Since the Sun has no solid surface, you could not do this (direct) measurement there either. There would be no (direct) way to tell if Earth is moving away from (or closer to) Mars (or the Sun) over time.

In order to move the Moon into a higher orbit (which is what the data is telling us), you would need to add energy to "escape from" the force of (Earth's) gravity. The CSB says that the action of the Moon pulling on the ocean (tides) "steals" energy from the Earth - so the Earth slows down (rotation) and the Moon moves away (higher orbit).

NOTE: As the Earth slows down, the day gets longer (24 hours +), and the less days you have in a year. This also means that "high noon" - the time of day when the sun is directly overhead - shifts to later in the day. So in order to sync noontime with the Sun, you need to shift the clock. This is why we add "leap seconds" at the end of the year (this happened in 2008). 

Figure 12 Consequences of a larger Moon orbit © Chris Rampson

If the Moon is moving away from the Earth - wouldn't it also be moving closer to the Sun (in at least one position of its orbit - perihelion)?

Conundrum 6: The Moon's perihelion is shrinking

How can you add energy to an orbit and get closer to the Sun (the opposite should happen)?

Many scientists would argue that since the Moon is much closer to the Earth, its gravity would "dominate" over the Sun's, so that a shrinking perihelion is not a conundrum.
Let's play devil's advocate here, what if the CSB has it wrong and the opposite is true?  What if the Earth is moving away from the Moon?

Chapter 3 - The Earth - From Blue Giant to Blue Marble

Saying that the Earth is unique is an understatement. The Earth has minable quantities of all the elements - i.e. very rich in minerals. It has huge quantities of water and plenty of gas (nitrogen, oxygen, etc.). The core's magnetic dynamo protects us from the solar wind and the ozone layer protects us from UV radiation. The Moon itself "sweeps" up comets and asteroids while creating tides that help drive the weather. The axial tilt gives us the seasons - which are a dynamo for life. The Earth is truly a gem.

In simple terms, moving the Earth in one direction would "shorten" the Moon's orbit on that side and lengthen it on the other. Either the Moon's orbit would become more and more elliptical or it would need energy to pull its orbit back into a (larger) circle. It already has a mechanism to get energy (pulling on the Earth's tides), so this is a possibility.

The Earth can only move away from the Moon in one of two ways; either it is accelerating away from the Moon, or it is moving in a certain direction which the Moon is not. The data disproves number one as the retroreflector ranging shows that the Moon is moving away from the Earth at a constant velocity. As for the second assertion - we need more data! Let's examine the Earth/Moon system in more detail.

The CSB says that the Moon was created from the impact (The Big Whack) of a mars-size planetoid (Theia) into the Earth. There are 3 different scenarios for this impact:

  1. Theia and Earth were in the same orbit - in this case there would be no velocity vector toward or away from the Sun (like a car running into you from behind or from the front, your car stays on its original path - with its velocity changed).
  2. Theia strikes the Earth at an (oblique) angle - in this case the Earth gets "pushed" away from its original trajectory - but it eventually returns to a stable orbit, albeit closer or further away from the Sun (if your car gets sideswiped, you keep moving in the same direction, but you move laterally away from the impact and eventually recover - albeit in another lane).
  3. Theia strikes the Earth at a right angle - in this case, the Earth gets pushed away from its original trajectory - but it (may) never return to a "stable" orbit (your car gets T-boned) i.e. it depends on whether Theia ever "stops".
Number 3 is the only scenario where Earth can continue to alter its orbit - i.e. moving away from the initial impact location.

The CSB on Theia is that it formed close to the Earth (maybe at a Lagrange point - where the Sun's gravity and Earth's gravity cancel each other out), and then was disturbed from its orbit - putting it on a collision course with the Earth. I fail to see how a planetoid that was orbiting in the same direction as the Earth could move laterally and strike the Earth perpendicular to that orbit. It would most likely impact like a sideswipe or a head-on and not like a T-bone (or a rear-ender).

Assuming that the impact was a "T-bone" like event, then Theia would have had to either come from the direction of the Sun or from the opposite (Jupiter side). The first possibility is that Theia formed close to the Sun - which somehow "threw" Theia at the Earth. The second possibility would include Jupiter's gravity 'disturbing" the asteroid belt which dislodged Theia - but that would be a much harder "shot' as Jupiter is 5x further away from the Earth than the Sun (and has less gravity). It makes more sense that Theia hit the Earth from "inside" (Sun side) of its orbit (possibly accelerated and steered by the Sun's gravity) - causing the Earth to move away from the Sun. This means that the Earth's "year" would get longer - thus necessitating adding leap seconds . . . 


Proposal 1

The Earth is moving away from the Sun

because of the (initial) Theia impact and Newton's 1st Law Of Motion (a body in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force). The Moon gains energy from pulling on the Earth's tides and can increase its orbit in line with Earth's motion away from the Sun.

A consequence of Proposal 1 is that the Moon's perihelion (closet approach to the Sun) is a constant (distance), assuming that the Moon is not also moving away from the Sun (it isn't).




Lets make a model

Think of the Earth as a rubber ball with a (hard) coating of plaster.

What happens when you toss it up and hit it with a baseball bat? Poof! You get a cloud of plaster dust while the rubber ball shoots far away. Theia intercepted the Earth in a perpendicular crossing route - like the bat. The Big Whack (and CSB) says that Theia merged with the Earth and (part of the Earth's) outer crust was thrown into orbit - where it formed a (dust) ring and then accreted into the Moon.

The rubber ball model is not complete enough so we need to add more information to the model. The Earth (ball) is always in motion orbiting the "center" (Sun). So visualize a (fast) rotating platform with a T-ball set up. When the ball is hit, it flies far away while the plaster would tend to more concentrated in a smaller area (like a centrifuge). The plaster pieces (mostly) have the same trajectory before AND after the impact.

This illustrates that there was not a "ring" of material from The Big Whack - more like a blob. This blob also retained the original orbital trajectory as the Earth (pre-impact). It was this blob that coalesced to form the Moon.


Proposal 2

The Moon's perihelion (closest approach to the Sun) marks the original orbit of the pre-impact Earth.

The Moon's material has not moved relative to the Sun since its formation (as part of the pre-impact Earth). The Moon is the "original" Earth.

When the Apollo astronauts brought rock samples back from the Moon,scientists were hopeful to find rock that might have come from Theia. This would have been a very important find as it would answer many questions about The Big Whack. They did not find anything that could be considered a candidate Theia sample.



Conundrum 7: Missing rock evidence for Theia

Where are the samples?

No solid rock evidence of the Theia impact means that The Big Whack theory needs to be changed.



Proposal 3

The Moon formed from a "blob" of material that occupied a relatively small region of space.

It coalesced into the Moon relatively quickly - thus (highland) moon rocks have a consistent (very ancient) age of 4.6 Gya (not much changed from the pre-impact Earth).

NOTE: Erik Asphaug recently proposed a theory that the Moon was actually 2 blobs that "soft impacted".

This impact created the axial tilt (23 degrees) of the Earth. There are also other planets with similar axial tilts - Mars (25 degrees), Saturn (27 degrees) and Neptune (29 degrees). The tilts are very similar - could their tilts be caused by the same impact mechanism? A single explanation that would cover all of these cases would be more plausible than separate events. . . .

Chapter 4 - Mars - From Blue Giant to Blue Marble

Out of all of the planets and moons of the Solar System, Mars is most like the Earth. Recent explorations have concluded that Mars had substantial surface water in the past and also a much thicker atmosphere. So Mars looked a lot like Earth until about 1 Gya - it even has seasons because of its axial tilt.



Conundrum 8: Mars' axial tilt

Where did Mars get its axial tilt?

If the Earth got its axial tilt from an impact event, then where did Mars get its from? If we assume that we are correct about the genesis of the Moon, then we also need to believe that Mars was impacted as Earth was. It seems very unlikely that Mars would be impacted with just the right size of planetoid and at just the right angle (and velocity) to create an almost identical axial tilt to the Earth (and since no large moon was created, the mechanics would have had to be very different).

There are other unique oddities about Mars. The biggest of which is the question of its atmosphere. According to CSB, Mars had an atmosphere very similar to Earth's in the beginning (4 Gya) - and it lost (most of) it. Mars' gravity was not strong enough to hold onto its own atmosphere. This begs the question, if Mars' gravity was not strong enough to hold an atmosphere, then how did it attract an atmosphere in the first place?



Conundrum 9: Mars' (anomalously) thick atmosphere

Where did Mars get its atmosphere from? And while we're at it, where did Mars get its water from?

According to CSB, Theia (the impactor on the Earth) was "Mars sized". That's an interesting conjecture. Basically anything bigger would have destroyed the Earth, and anything smaller would not have been big enough to create the Moon. So "Mars sized" was 'just right" (The Goldilocks Theory?).

What else is "Mars sized" in relation to the Earth? If you removed the inner and outer core of the Earth (3488 miles in diameter), there would be enough room to fit Mars (3396 miles in diameter) inside (A perfect [97%] fit! Only 92 miles to spare). Hmm, now that we have Mars inside of Earth (experimentally), how does it compare to the Earth's mantle (rock) around it?

Mars' rotation is quite close to Earth's (a Mars day (sol) is 24 hours and 39 minutes). Mars' mean density (~4.0 gm/cm3) is about the same as the Earth's mantle. Mars has significant amounts of Olivine - the most prevalent mineral in the Earth's mantle. Mars also has loads of iron - which we have here in abundance.

I think you would be hard-pressed to see any differences between Mars and the Earth's mantle. They look the same (same color?). They are composed of the same minerals and elements. They have the same density. They have the same rotation and tilt. The hole in the mantle (minus the cores) is the same size as Mars. I would say that when you compare the two, you would say EYE-den-ti-cal. The reason Mars is similar to the Earth is because Mars is the Earth (or part of it).



Proposal 4

The impact of Theia on the Earth created Mars (and the Moon).

There is a theory today that says that Earth had water when Theia impacted it. Some Moon dust (brought back by astronauts) that is in the shape of spheres, seemed to have formed from water. If the Earth had water at the time of the Theia impact, then some of that water was captured by Mars when it was created.

In order to "shoot" Mars into the orbit it has today, the Theia impact must have been a doozy. It really would take the equivalent of a baseball bat hitting a homer (instead of a bunt). This means that Theia had a tremendous amount of energy (momentum) in order to do this. It would be very "tricky" to have an impact of this force, without turning the Earth into an asteroid belt! What the heck could have done this?

Chapter 5 - Theia - From Blue Giant to Blue Marble

Momentum (p) equals mass (m) times the velocity (v); p = mv. You can increase either m or v and you increase momentum (p). In the case of The Big Whack, I believe that both of these would need to be very high. A good Physics student could model this by calculating the force vectors and using the bulk modulus of the material etc., but I doubt that you could understand everything that happened in the impact. So I will do this with analogy and hand-waving instead . . .

Let's construct a (more accurate) model for the Earth. Fill a bowling ball sized balloon with thick tar (the Earth would not have been totally solid at this point in time [4.6Gya] - in fact it would have been mostly molten inside. That's why I chose thick tar for the model) and then cover the balloon with plaster (paint it blue) and set it on a table (having Atlas hold it on his shoulders while standing on turtles would be more appropriate). This is a good approximation of the Earth as the continental crust is fairly rigid while the mantle is ductile. Now let's model an impact!

Take a baseball and throw it at the balloon (the baseball is Theia), what happens? The baseball bounces off the balloon and shatters the area around the impact. There might be a bulge on the other side of the balloon from the impact - with a few cracks in the plaster. Now that wasn't a good enough impact. We need MORE POWER!

Now let's take a cannon ball (same size as the baseball) and fire a cannon at the balloon (after fixing the plaster).


Figure 16 US Marines in Iraq firing howitzer

Now what happens? As the cannon ball hits, it keeps going into the balloon. This expands the balloon (the added volume of the cannon ball), which cracks the entire plaster surface, and the plaster goes flying. On the side opposite where the cannon ball impacted, goopy tar gets blown out (displacing tar the same size as the cannon ball), but most of the tar stays put since there isn't any (much) force being applied to it. The balloon then flies off the table as the force of the impact gets absorbed by the tar and translated into movement of the balloon. So now let's look at the results.

The table is covered with plaster (there is also some plaster on the floor). There is a blob of tar (far away) on the floor along with a balloon with a cannon ball embedded in the center of it. Oh yeah, the cannon ball also pushed some of the plaster into the balloon tar. This experiment looks pretty accurate - you should be able to actually do this test (don't do it at home!).

The plaster (on the table) represents the Moon as the dust comes together around the initial impact to form the Moon (in the same place as the pre-impact Earth). The blob that came out the back represents Mars - and since most of the momentum of the cannon ball was translated into the tar blob - there would be enough energy for the blob to fly far from the initial impact. The balloon represents the Earth - with a metal core, moving away from its original orbital position. And that piece of plaster that was pushed into the tar by the cannon ball represents Australia (Pangaea)! NOTE: The (land) surface area of the Earth is almost the same size as the entire surface of Mars (149 million sq. km vs. 145 million).

That certainly sounds plausible! This would also explain why you don't see any remnants of Theia on the Moon (or Earth) today (it was solid iron). This also explains where Mars got its tilt and rotation from (the tar blob was rotating the same as the rest of the Earth, and the impact tilted the Earth as the blob was being shot out).

As Theia approached the Earth closer and closer, it would have pushed the atmosphere away before it impacted. This atmosphere would "bunch up" on the other side of the Earth. The impact would also cause tremendous heat - which would vaporize any water on the side of impact - creating steam, which would go into the atmosphere (which is bunched up behind the Earth). When the tar blob (Mars) exited the balloon (Earth), it would go right though the thickest part of the atmosphere. Mars' gravity would have grabbed a chunk of the atmosphere (which had water in it).

Note: Venus' atmosphere is 93 times as dense as Earth's - even though they formed in nearly the same area (and they are almost the same size). Why is Venus' atmosphere so dense? Maybe a better question is why is Earth's so thin (in relation)?

There was also enough steam to mix with the plaster (Moon stuff) which is where you get those nice spheres from off the Moon. NOTE: Not all of the plaster was used in the formation of the Moon. Some of it was blasted out of the "general neighborhood" of the Earth/Moon and became asteroids. We will talk about that later. Some of it certainly fell back onto the Earth.

But we need to know more about Theia.



Conundrum 10: Origin and composition of Theia

Where did Theia come from and what was it made out of? Was it solid iron?



Conundrum 11: High velocity of Theia

How the heck did Theia get moving so fast?

Since the remnants of Theia sit at the center of the Earth today, what do we know about the Earth's core? This should give us some hints for answering those Conundrums.

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