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Wandering Gas Giants and Lunar Bombardment
Wandering Gas Giants and Lunar Bombardment
28 Aug 2006
(Source: University of Hawaii)

Written by G. Jeffrey Taylor Hawai'i Institute of Geophysics and Planetology

There may have been a dramatic event early in the history of the Solar System--the intense bombardment of the inner planets and the Moon by planetesimals during a narrow interval between 3.92 and 3.85 billion years ago, called the late heavy bombardment, but also nicknamed the lunar cataclysm. The evidence for this event comes from Apollo lunar samples and lunar meteorites. While not proven, it makes for an interesting working hypothesis. If correct, what caused it to happen?

A group of physicists from the Observatoire de la C?te d'Azur (Nice, France), GEA/OV/Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro and Observat?rio Nacional/MTC (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), and the Southwest Research Institute (Boulder, Colorado) conducted a series of studies of the dynamics of the early Solar System. Alessandro Morbidelli, Kleomenis Tsiganis, Rodney Gomes, and Harold Levison simulated the migration of Saturn and Jupiter. When the orbits of these giant planets reached the special condition of Saturn making one trip around the Sun for every two trips by Jupiter (called the 1:2 resonance), violent gravitational shoves made the orbits of Neptune and Uranus unstable, causing them to migrate rapidly and scatter countless planetesimals throughout the Solar System. This dramatic event could have happened in a short interval, anywhere from 200 million years to a billion years after planet formation, causing the lunar cataclysm, which would have affected all the inner planets.

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Last Updated: 28 Aug 2006