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Long-Destroyed Fifth Planet May Have Caused Lunar Cataclysm, Researchers Say
SPACE dot COM ^ | 18 March 2002 ,posted: 03:00 pm ET | By Leonard David, Senior Space Writer

Posted on 03/25/2002 2:42:10 PM PST by vannrox

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HOUSTON, TEXAS -- Our solar system may have had a fifth terrestrial planet, one that was swallowed up by the Sun. But before it was destroyed, the now missing-in-action world made a mess of things.

Space scientists John Chambers and Jack Lissauer of NASA's Ames Research Center hypothesize that along with Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars -- the terrestrial, rocky planets -- there was a fifth terrestrial world, likely just outside of Mars's orbit and before the inner asteroid belt.

Moreover, Planet V was a troublemaker.

The computer modeling findings of Chambers and Lissauer were presented during the 33rd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held here March 11-15, and sponsored by NASA and the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

It is commonly believed that during the formative years of our solar system, between 3.8 billion and 4 billion years ago, the Moon and Earth took a pounding from space debris. However, there is an on-going debate as to whether or not the bruising impacts tailed off 3.8 billion year ago or if there was a sudden increase - a "spike" -- in the impact rate around 3.9 billion years ago, with quiet periods before and afterwards?

This epoch of time is tagged as the "lunar cataclysm" - also a wakeup call on the cosmological clock when the first evidence of life is believed to have appeared on Earth.

The great cover-up

Having a swarm of objects clobbering the Moon in a narrow point of time would have resurfaced most of our celestial next door neighbor, covering up its early history. Being that the Moon is so small, Earth would have been on the receiving end of any destructive deluge too.

Moon-walking astronauts brought back a cache of lunar material. Later analysis showed that virtually all impact rocks in the "Apollo collection" sported nearly the same age, 3.9 billion years, and none were older. But some scientists claim that these samples were "biased", as they came from a small area of the Moon, and are the result of a localized pummeling, not some lunar big bang.

There is a problem in having a "spike" in the lunar cratering rate.

That scenario is tough to devise. Things should have been settling down, according to solar system creation experts. Having chunks of stuff come zipping along some hundreds of millions of years later out of nowhere and create a lunar late heavy bombardment is a puzzler.

If real, what were these bodies, and where were they before they scuffed up the Moon big time? The answer, according to Chambers and Lissauer, might be tied to the the Planet V hypothesis.

"The extra planet formed on a low-eccentricity orbit that was long-lived, but unstable," Chambers reported. About 3.9 billion years ago, Planet V was perturbed by gravitational interactions with the other inner planets. It was tossed onto a highly eccentric orbit that crossed the inner asteroid belt, a reservoir of material much larger than it is today.

Planet V's close encounters with the inner belt of asteroids stirred up a large fraction of those bodies, scattering them about. The perturbed asteroids evolved into Mars crossing orbits, and temporarily enhanced the population of bodies on Earth-crossing orbits, and also increased the lunar impact rate.

After doing its destabilizing deeds, Planet V was lost too, most likely spinning into the Sun, the NASA team reported.

The temporary existence of more than 4 planet-sized bodies in the inner Solar System is consistent with the currently favored model for the formation of the Moon. Work by Chambers and Lissauer also supports the view that our Moon is a leftover of a massive collision between Earth and a Mars-sized body 50 million to 100 million years after the formation of the Solar System.

Striking view

Wendell Mendell, a planetary scientist here at NASA's Johnson Space Center, said the new theory is intriguing.

"This idea and others within the last few years show that the Solar System is filled with all sorts of gravitational resonances...that a lot of potential orbits in the Solar System are chaotic and unstable," Mendell told "My sense is that this is a new idea. It's another thing to throw into the pot that's not totally crazy."

The work suggests there's a match up in timing, Mendell said, with asteroids striking the Moon and causing the effects that are seen in the dating of Apollo lunar rocks.

"By thinking that the Solar System was really quite different in a major way with an extra inner planet, we might be able to develop some sort of self-consistent scenario that explains a lot of things. But all this is at the very early stages now," Mendell said.

"We're moving into a really new regime," Mendell added, "where the Solar System is not a static dynamic place from day one to now. It really might have had some nuances and synchronicities associated with it that we have not really tried to exploit before."

It takes a drill hole Setting the early Solar System and lunar history record straight means going back to the Moon.

"The Moon is still the keystone to our understanding of the Solar System," NASA's Mendell said.

That too is the view of Apollo 17 astronaut, Harrison "Jack" Schmitt. Getting back to the Moon to sort out the real story is a must, he said.

"You're going to have to be very, very specific on what sites you go to collect new samples," Schmitt told "It may be very difficult to get an answer without using missions to fairly large impact craters that penetrate through the ejecta. Those impacts are sort of a drill hole into the lunar crust," he said.

Dating service

Places on the Moon where older, large basins have deposited ejecta are ideal research zones, Schmitt said. Digging into such sites could yield impact glass formed by basins perhaps dating older than 3.9 billion years old, he said.

Just taking spot samples -- say from the Moon's South Pole Aitken basin -- could be risky, in terms of uncovering the Moon's rocky history, Schmitt said. Such a huge area would take multiple robotic or human exploration missions, each with significant roving abilities.

Also known as the "Big Backside Basin," Aitken is the largest impact crater on the Moon, and one of the biggest in the Solar System.

For the near term, sets of low-cost, mini-robotic landers carrying specialized gear would be ideal in opening up the Moon to further exploration, Schmitt said.

"Numbers of targeted missions could get a lot of great information on some of these fundamental questions that we still haven't been able to answer," Schmitt said.

Getting back to the Moon with a settlement for resource exploitation is another step forward. From such a site, human explorers can survey various lunar locales - even the Moon's side that we Earthlings never see, Schmitt said. "Then we can do the kind of thing that Apollo did for the near side of the Moon," he said.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; Foreign Affairs; Government; Miscellaneous; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: artbell; asteroid; asteroids; astronomy; bodeslaw; canterbury; catastrophism; deimos; eph; explodingplanet; explosion; fear; fifthplanet; goliath; hemisphereofcraters; impact; impacts; lunarcapture; lunarorigin; mars; martianequator; martianimpact; moon; moons; nasa; oppositehemisphere; patten; phobos; rochelimit; rocheradius; science; space; terror; themoon; thomasvanflandern; titiusbode; titiusbodeslaw; tomvanflandern; tvf; vanflandern; xplanets
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1 posted on 03/25/2002 2:42:10 PM PST by vannrox
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To: vannrox
van Flandern says Mars was a moon of the 5th planet, which would have made it the 4th planet at that time. Why did it explode? It may have been a duplicate thread planet.
2 posted on 03/25/2002 2:46:42 PM PST by RightWhale
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To: vannrox

Does timing agree with any major extinction event? Anyone?

3 posted on 03/25/2002 2:48:41 PM PST by null and void
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To: RightWhale
You mean it was simply deleted? Geez.... I hate when that happens.
4 posted on 03/25/2002 2:49:40 PM PST by buffyt
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To: vannrox

Yes it is very interesting.

"Getting back to the Moon with a settlement for resource exploitation is another step forward."

May I take the liberty of suggesting that we send all liberal Democrat politicians and movie stars to the new lunar settlement? I will start a collection to pay for it.

5 posted on 03/25/2002 2:52:36 PM PST by buffyt
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To: buffyt
You mean it was simply deleted? Geez.... I hate when that happens.

That's because the Moderators hate redundant posts: The fifth planet was already posted here.

6 posted on 03/25/2002 2:53:59 PM PST by Lazamataz
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To: null and void
Does timing agree with any major extinction event?

This was all before the rise of life on earth. Maybe it was a trigger event.

7 posted on 03/25/2002 2:58:01 PM PST by RightWhale
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To: vannrox
Maybe off topic, but how did they age the rocks on the moon. Too old for C14, no fossils for geo column dating. How'd they get the age?
8 posted on 03/25/2002 2:58:23 PM PST by T. P. Pole
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To: *Space
Check the Bump List folders for articles related to and descriptions of the above topic(s) or for other topics of interest.
9 posted on 03/25/2002 2:58:35 PM PST by Free the USA
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To: medved
I'm thinking this'll interest you.
10 posted on 03/25/2002 3:11:25 PM PST by <1/1,000,000th%
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To: vannrox
So Planet 5 set off the orbit of Mars and part of it crashed into Earth?
11 posted on 03/25/2002 3:12:07 PM PST by codebreaker
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To: null and void
Does timing agree with any major extinction event?

If there was life before 3.9 billion years, there is no remaining evidence of it. I believe life as we know it didn't appear for another 400 million years or so, far as we can tell. Life forms were very simple for a very long time, single cellular guys for over 2 billion years. The interesting multicellular stuff didn't start until about 500 million years ago. There were occasional mass extinctions during those last 500 million years.

12 posted on 03/25/2002 3:30:13 PM PST by jlogajan
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To: vannrox
When I was a kid I remember hearing there were calculations made that posited another planet because of the orbits of existing planets.

They called it Vulcan. Any astronomers remember that story?? - Tom

13 posted on 03/25/2002 3:47:24 PM PST by Capt. Tom
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To: vannrox
If only they had had the chance to read Al Gore's book, maybe they could have been saved.
14 posted on 03/25/2002 3:49:20 PM PST by ValenB4
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To: vannrox
Odd; I 'knew' this when I was 10 from reading science fiction. Every time scientists come up with something writers predicted decades ago, I have a good laugh. Thanks for posting this article!
15 posted on 03/25/2002 3:56:14 PM PST by JenB
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To: vannrox
Must be a slow news day.  Similar theories by the Russian Immanuel Velikovsky were totally discounted.  Even the Dems can't negate the law of conservation of angular momentum.  Sounds like more junk science.
16 posted on 03/25/2002 3:56:37 PM PST by The UnVeiled Lady
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To: jlogajan
Any way to tell when the genetic defect first occured which eventually led to the deviant human race known as Democrats?
17 posted on 03/25/2002 3:57:39 PM PST by lwoodham
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To: Lazamataz
Interesting link... one part struck me as odd, though...

The interaction of the Earth and the Moon slows the Earth's rotation by about 2 milliseconds per century. Current research indicates that about 900 million years ago there were 481 18-hour days in a year.

I don't actually think that it's the interaction between the Earth and the Moon that slow's Earth's rotation... I think it's Commie Pinko Leftists. They keep wanting to cut the work week, for the same pay, to create 'more jobs'... and this slows progress, and since we all know that the universe revolves around them, well, I think it's plain to see, that if we don't stop the Leftists, and soon, there will be 962 9-hour days per year...

18 posted on 03/25/2002 4:06:16 PM PST by Chad Fairbanks
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To: vannrox
We need reparations fot the displaced single cell victims of this obvious right wing sponsored event.
19 posted on 03/25/2002 4:45:44 PM PST by satchmodog9
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To: T. P. Pole
In an oak cask. Makes good Bourbon.
20 posted on 03/25/2002 4:52:36 PM PST by Arkie2
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