Tidal Evolution of the Earth–Moon System with a High Initial Obliquity

Matija Cuk*, Simon Lock, Sarah T Stewart, Douglas P. Hamilton

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
54 Downloads (Pure)


A giant-impact origin for the Moon is generally accepted, but many aspects of lunar formation remain poorly understood and debated. Ćuk et al. proposed that an impact that left the Earth–Moon system with high obliquity and angular momentum could explain the Moon's orbital inclination and isotopic similarity to Earth. In this scenario, instability during the Laplace Plane transition, when the Moon's orbit transitions from the gravitational influence of Earth's figure to that of the Sun, would both lower the system's angular momentum to its present-day value and generate the Moon's orbital inclination. Recently, Tian & Wisdom discovered new dynamical constraints on the Laplace Plane transition and concluded that the Earth–Moon system could not have evolved from an initial state with high obliquity. Here we demonstrate that the Earth–Moon system with an initially high obliquity can evolve into the present state, and we identify a spin–orbit secular resonance as a key dynamical mechanism in the later stages of the Laplace Plane transition. Some of the simulations by Tian & Wisdom did not encounter this late secular resonance, as their model suppressed obliquity tides and the resulting inclination damping. Our results demonstrate that a giant impact that left Earth with high angular momentum and high obliquity (θ > 61°) is a promising scenario for explaining many properties of the Earth–Moon system, including its angular momentum and obliquity, the geochemistry of Earth and the Moon, and the lunar inclination.
Original languageEnglish
Article number147
JournalPlanetary Science Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 4 Aug 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
M.Ć. is supported by NASA’s Emerging Worlds Program award 80NSSC19K0512. S.J.L. gratefully acknowledges funding from NSF through award EAR-1947614. Comments by Daniel Tamayo and two anonymous reviewers greatly improved the manuscript. The authors would like to thank Jihad Touma and the faculty and staff of the American University in Beirut for hosting a workshop on lunar formation in October 2019, which greatly advanced our understanding of early lunar evolution.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021. The Author(s). Published by the American Astronomical Society.


  • Tides
  • Moon
  • Earth
  • giant impact
  • planetary science


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