Dynamical History of the Earth–Moon System

Research paper by G. A. Krasinsky

Indexed on: 01 Sep '02Published on: 01 Sep '02Published in: Celestial Mechanics and Dynamical Astronomy


Differential equations describing the tidal evolution of the earth's rotation and of the lunar orbital motion are presented in a simple close form. The equations differ in form for orbits fixed to the terrestrial equator and for orbits with the nodes precessing along the ecliptic due to solar perturbations. Analytical considerations show that if the contemporary lunar orbit were equatorial the evolution would develop from an unstable geosynchronous orbit of the period about 4.42 h (in the past) to a stable geosynchronous orbit of the period about 44.8 days (in the future). It is also demonstrated that at the contemporary epoch the orbital plane of the fictitious equatorial moon would be unstable in the Liapunov's sense, being asymptotically stable at early stages of the evolution. Evolution of the currently near-ecliptical lunar orbit and of the terrestrial rotation is traced backward in time by numerical integration of the evolutional equations. It is confirmed that about 1.8 billion years ago a critical phase of the evolution took place when the equatorial inclination of the moon reached small values and the moon was in a near vicinity of the earth. Before the critical epoch tcr two types of the evolution are possible, which at present cannot be unambiguously distinguished with the help of the purely dynamical considerations. In the scenario that seems to be the most realistic from the physical point of view, the evolution also has started from a geosynchronous equatorial lunar orbit of the period 4.19 h. At t < tcr the lunar orbit has been fixed to the precessing terrestrial equator by strong perturbations from the earth's flattening and by tidal effects; at the critical epoch the solar perturbations begin to dominate and transfer the moon to its contemporary near-ecliptical orbit which evolves now to the stable geosynchronous state. Probably this scenario is in favour of the Darwin's hypothesis about originating the moon by its separation from the earth. Too much short time scale of the evolution in this model might be enlarged if the dissipative Q factor had somewhat larger values in the past than in the present epoch. Values of the length of day and the length of month, estimated from paleontological data, are confronted with the results of the developed model.