A Magnetized, Moon-forming Giant Impact

P. D. Mullen, C. F. Gammie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Moon is believed to have formed in the aftermath of a giant impact between a planetary-mass body and the proto-Earth. In a typical giant impact scenario, a disk of vapor, liquid, and solid debris forms around the proto-Earth and—after possibly decades of evolution—condenses to form the Moon. Using state-of-the-art numerical simulations, we investigate the dynamical effects of magnetic fields on the Moon-forming giant impact. We show that turbulence generated by the collision itself, shear in the boundary layer between the post-impact debris field and the proto-Earth, and turbulence in the vapor component of the disk amplify the field to dynamically significant strengths. Magnetically driven turbulence promotes angular momentum transport in the protolunar disk. Debris material is accreted onto the proto-Earth, making Moon formation less efficient, while the disk is forced to spread to larger radii, cooling at its outer edge. Magnetic fields speed the evolution of the vapor component of the protolunar disk and hasten the formation of the Moon.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberL15
JournalAstrophysical Journal Letters
Issue number1
StatePublished - Nov 1 2020

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Space and Planetary Science


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