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Moon story waxes fuller

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10:28am, April 6, 2005

The story of how the moon was born may finally be complete. According to the most widely accepted scenario, a Mars-size rock slammed into the Earth 4.5 billion years ago, spewing material that coalesced into the moon. But where this gigantic impactor came from has remained unclear.

The moon's chemical composition suggests that the impactor formed as close to the sun as Earth did, but another factor made that seem impossible: As Earth was forming, its gravity acted like a vacuum cleaner, gobbling up nearby debris. How the impactor could have grown to the size of Mars has been an enigma.

In the March Astronomical Journal, Edward Belbruno and J. Richard Gott of Princeton University propose that the giant impactor could have gradually formed at one of two gravitational sweet spots called L4 and L5, which are situated as far from the sun as is the Earth. At these two points, any object stays put relative to the sun and Earth.

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