The Moon Creation and Composition: The Apollo Missions

by Duane T. Gish*
A discussion of the accomplishments of the Apollo Program. What did we learn about the origin, the nature and the age of the moon?
Since the fourth day of creation, a beautiful silvery object we call the moon has orbited the earth, flooding the landscape with a soft light that engenders romantic expressions in poetry, song, and in the minds of earth-bound creatures. Earthbound, that is, until July 20, 1969, when the landing module of Apollo 11 touched down on the surface of the moon, and for the first time in the history of mankind, humans actually had their abode, as temporary as it was, on a body other than the earth. The three astronauts who participated in that visit to the surface of the moon spent a little less than two and a quarter hours walking on the moon, returning with 21.7 kilograms (about 47.7 pounds) of rock samples from the surface. This historic event was an accomplishment that astounded the world and thrilled a proud nation. Many of us remember looking at the moon during that time in awesome wonder realizing that there were human beings actually walking on its surface at that very moment. Thus, this month, July 1994, twenty-five years later, we commemorate that amazing event.
Since that time, five other manned U.S. space craft have landed on the moon, culminating with the touchdown of the landing module from Apollo 17 on December 11, 1972. Each time samples of soil and rock were returned to the earth for analysis, the final sample from Apollo 17 amounting to 110.5 kilograms, or about 243 pounds. For the crews of the last three expeditions, Apollo 15, 16, and 17, a lunar vehicle, Rover, enabled the astronauts to cover distances up to 20 kilometers (12 miles) during their explorations and sampling forays. Now, after a quarter of a century, it is time to look back and reflect on what has been accomplished as a result of these human excursions on the surface of the moon, as well as the many unmanned landings on its surface, both preceding and following the manned landings.
What were the expressed purposes and goals of those who planned, executed, and analyzed the results of these visits to the moon? Just what inspired this monumental effort of human endeavor and expenditure of huge amounts of money, and indirectly, cost the lives of three American astronauts while in training at Houston? Was it national pride? Was it real hope for practical results, or was it simply a desire to confirm theories on the evolutionary origin of the moon and the solar system? Certainly national pride was involved, as the U.S. was engaged with the Russians in a race to put the first man on the moon, but there is no doubt that the motivation of those planning and directing the project was to investigate the origin of the moon and to confirm one of the several theories concerning its evolutionary origin.
Creation scientists, based on the clear and unequivocal statements in the Word of God, and firmly supported by well-established natural laws and the failure of all theories on the evolutionary origin of the universe, accept the supernatural, special creation of the universe, which, of course, includes the origin of the solar system with its earth and moon.
And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years: and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: He made the stars also (Genesis 1:14-16).
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of His mouth. For He spoke, and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast (Psalm 33:6,9).
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had made; and He rested or the seventh day from all His work which He had made. And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it He had rested from all His work which God created and made (Genesis 2:1 3).
Thus, using special processes operating nowhere in the natural universe today, God created all the heavenly bodies, including the earth, the moon, the sun, and all the other objects in the solar system. Furthermore, Scripture makes clear that at the close of the sixth day of creation God had finished the work of creating the universe�the heavens and the earth for He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had made.
Evolutionists, on the other hand, reject any explanation for the origin of the universe that involves God, or supernatural intervention of any kind. Thus, the late Professor Harlow Shapley, an astronomer at Harvard University, declared, "Some people piously proclaim, in the beginning God. I say, in the beginning hydrogen." Evolutionists are forever seeking after and exploring naturalistic theories concerning the origin of the universe and what they believe to be the subsequent origin of second and third generation stars. Naturally, these theories include those concerning the origin of the solar system, and the origin of particular objects within that system, including the earth and moon.
In October of 1984, a conference on the origin of the moon convened in Kona, Hawaii. During the two-and-a-half day conference, 58 papers by 62 lunar scientists were presented. The results of the conference were published in 1986 in a volume entitled, Origin of the Moon. 1
In the preface (p.vii) it is stated that ". . . solving the mystery of the Moon's origin was billed as a major goal of lunar exploration." After a dozen years of analyzing all the data gathered from the samples of soil and rocks of the moon, and analyzing thermal,magnetic,and seismic data gathered by instruments placed on the moon or in orbital subsatellites, what can be said of success or failure of efforts to solve the mystery of the origin of the moon? Let us again quote from the Preface of the above-mentioned volume: "As it turned out, neither the Apollo astronauts, the Luna vehicles, nor all the kings horses and all the kings men could assemble enough data to explain circumstances of the Moon's birth" (p.vii). What these data were sufficient to do was to falsify all the theories on the origin of the moon that had been contenders up until that time.
One of the participants in the conference was the geochemist Stuart Ross Taylor of the Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra. He was paraphrased by Sean Solomon, another participant, as follows: 2
Taylor's Axiom: The best models of lunar origin are the testable ones.
Taylor's Corollary: The testable models for lunar origin are wrong.
David Hughes, in his review of the book edited by Hartmann, Phillips, and Taylor, says, "In astronomical terms, therefore, the Moon must be classed as a well-known object, but astronomers still have to admit shamefacedly that they have little idea as to where it came from. This is particularly embarrassing, because the solution of the mystery was billed as one of the main goals of the U.S. lunar exploration programme." 3
Does all of this prove that creation scientists have been shown to be correct, and all attempts to contrive an evolutionary explanation for the origin of the moon will be abandoned? Of course not. But the results so far are precisely what creation scientists expected. That is, no theory postulating a naturalistic, mechanistic, evolutionary origin of the moon will be consistent with the actual data derivable from the moon because it did not arise as the result of such a process. On the other hand, if the data could be made to conform to an evolutionary theory on the moon's origin, reasonable or not, evolutionists would be proclaiming victory. Headlines on the front pages of practically every major newspaper in the world would have proclaimed, "Moon data solve mystery of its origin." Of course, no such headlines appeared. To evolutionists, in spite of the wealth of data gathered from our visits to the moon, or perhaps we should say, because of the data obtained from our visits to the moon, its origin remains as mysterious as ever.
Three theories concerning the evolutionary origin of the moon have been dominant until very recently. These are the intact capture theory, the coaccretion theory, and the fission theory. With the data retrieved from lunar explorations, manned and unmanned, of the past three decades, severe constraints have been placed on theories of the moon's origin. Our moon is far more massive, relative to the earth, than is the moon or satellite system of any other planet, except, possibly, the relative size of Charon, the moon of Pluto. The angular momentum of the earth-moon system (that is, a combination of the forces due to the rotation of the earth on its axis and the orbit of the moon around the earth) is anomalously large when compared to the angular momentum density of other planets, and any theory on its origin must account for this large angular momentum. A study of Apollo samples showed that the rocks and soils of the moon are severely depleted in volatile elements and greatly enhanced in refractory elements. The moon is greatly deficient in iron, containing only about one-fourth of the cosmic abundance of this element. This is one of the strongest constraints, along with the data on angular momentum, that limit theories on the origin of the moon. However, the oxygen isotope signature of lunar material (the ratios of 16^O, 17^O, and 18^O) is identical to that of the earth. It is believed that oxygen isotopic ratios vary with position in the solar system. Thus, the similarity of oxygen isotopic ratios of the earth and moon would require their evolutionary origin from similar bodies of protoplanetary material, at the same radial distance from the sun.
This theory was widely popular in the 1960s (and still has some defendants), but has largely fallen into disfavor. It was postulated that the earth and moon formed in widely separated parts of the solar system and were later joined as the moon was captured by the earth. This would supposedly account for the large differences in elemental composition, particularly the large difference in iron content of the earth and moon. Later it was realized that the moon could not have been captured if it originated in a remote region of the solar system since its encounter with the earth would have occurred at a relative high velocity, which would have rendered capture virtually impossible. Of course this theory, if acceptable, would have only explained the union of the earth and moon into its present system. The intact capture theory offers no explanation for the origin of either the earth or the moon.
The modern coaccretion theory postulates that the earth, during its accretion, accumulated a disk of solid particles orbiting the proto-earth. These particles then accreted to form the moon. Because this theory does not involve wildly implausible ad hoc assumptions, it has been favored by many lunar scientists. This theory, however, encounters serious difficulties. It cannot account for the angular momentum of the earth-moon system, the differences in the chemical compositions of the earth and moon (which should be very similar if the earth and moon accreted from material in the same region of the solar system), and the assumed melting of the magma ocean of the moon.
George H. Darwin, the son of Charles Darwin, announced his fission theory for the origin of the moon in 1878. Based on the observed secular acceleration of the moon (the rate of increase in orbital velocity and thus its movement away from the earth), Darwin worked backward to a state in which he postulated the earth and moon would have consisted of a common, molten, viscous mass, rotating rapidly with a period of approximately five-and-one-half-hours. He invoked the sun's tidal action to trigger fission, a mass approximately equal to the mass of the moon spinning off from the rapidly rotating earth mass. Others later suggested that the Pacific Ocean Basin was the scar left over from the separation of the material which constituted the moon.
By the end of the 19th century, Darwin's theory was widely accepted and had taken its position among other myths made popular by widely disseminated scientific notions.
In 1936, a children's radio program made available by the United States Office of Education included the following: 4
FRIENDLY GUIDE: Have you heard that the moon once occupied the space now filled by the Pacific Ocean? Once upon a time--a billion or so years ago, when the Earth was still young--a remarkable romance developed between the Earth and the Sun--according to some of our ablest scientists. In those days the Earth was a spirited maiden who danced about the princely Sun--was charmed by him--yielded to his attraction, and became his bride. The Sun's attraction raised great tides upon the Earth's surface. The huge crest of a bulge broke away with such momentum that it could not return to the body of mother Earth. And this is the way the Moon was formed!
GIRL: How exciting!
Professor Harold Jeffries of England, one of the world's foremost astronomers of that time, refuted some of the objections to the fission theory in 1917, and became one of its strongest proponents, helping to reestablish its position as a credible theory following attacks against this idea by a number of astronomers. However, in 1930, Jeffries discovered what he considered to be a fatal objection to the theory, having to do with the earth's viscosity and its effect in dampening the motions required to generate a resonant vibration necessary to induce fission. Thus, switching from the position of one of its strongest proponents of the fission theory, he became one of its most elective opponents.
As pointed out by Stuart Ross Taylor and others, according to the fission hypothesis, the bulk composition of the moon should resemble that of the mantle of the earth, but there are substantial differences. In rejecting the fission hypothesis, Taylor lists seven critical objections to the theory. 5
Earlier, reference was made to the secular acceleration of the moon. The gravitational effect of the moon creates tides on the oceans of the earth. Due to the speed of rotation of the earth, these tidal bulges precede the moon's changing location in space. This fact causes the earth's rotation to slow slightly, and the moon is pulled forward in its orbit by the gravitational pull of the tidal bulges, increasing its orbital speed, causing the moon to move away from the earth. Laser-ranging instruments measure the earth-moon distance to within a few centimeters and have determined the rate of separation to be a few centimeters per year. The rate of separation, based on uniformitarian assumptions, would have been greater in the past. 6 According to some calculations, it would have taken no more than about 1.8 billion years, and possibly even less, for the moon to reach its present position from any possible minimal position. 7 If this is true, evolutionists must either abandon the fission theory or their ideas about the age of the earth. There is little doubt that they would give up the former rather than the latter. Fission theory has few supporters today.
The capture, coaccretion, and fission theories of lunar origin had dominated the thinking of evolutionary theorists up until the results of the Apollo explorations on the moon raised fatal objections to these theories. A new theory was desperately needed, causing theorists on the origin of the moon to rethink the whole problem. Not yet willing to admit that the problem is intractable (most would never consider supernatural creation), and never short on imagination, these theorists have come up with a new idea: collision ejection theory. This theory postulates that during the final stages of its accretion, the earth was struck by a large planetesimal. According to this hypothesis, some of the material ejected by the collision went into orbit around the earth and formed the moon. This theory has come into prominence only recently, first of all because it is now much in need. Two serious objections to such a theory had previously existed. First, it would have involved a collision with a planetesimal as large as 0.1 earth mass, and it was believed up until recently that objects impacting the earth towards the end of its accretion were no larger than about one thousandth earth mass. Secondly, up until then it seemed obvious that material ejected off the earth would return to the earth and reaccrete after one geocentric orbit. Now, as Wood describes, 8 some astrophysicists have decided that collision during planetary accretion with planetesimals as large as 0.1 earth mass is actually to be expected. Other theorists struggled with the second problem and postulated that most of the debris ejected by a collision of two bodies already hot and partially molten could be in the form of a vapor rather than solids. This would get some of the material into orbit around the earth in position to form the moon.
This theory on the origin of the moon involves a series of assumptions, by nature of which most are untestable. No attempt has been made to account for the chemical composition of the moon that would have been produced by formation of the moon by collisional ejection. Wood states, "This hypothesis is so new that its weaknesses have not yet become apparent." 9 It is popular today only because of the consistent failure of all other models.
We can say with great confidence, then, that the results of the Apollo explorations to the moon, and data from all other sources as well, contradict and frustrate all human efforts to provide a naturalistic evolutionary origin of the moon. The uniqueness of the moon, as is also increasingly apparent from every other object in the solar system, is providing powerful, positive evidence for their special creation by God as proclaimed in Genesis and throughout all Scripture.
The supposed age of 4.5 billion years of the earth is actually based on radiometric age determinations of meteorites. Radiometric dating methods are based on a series of assumptions, and thus the accuracy of the method depends, of course, on the reliability of these assumptions. These assumptions have been questioned, and the vastages thus derived have been challenged. 10-12 Even if such methods were reliable, the catastrophic effects and reworking of the surface of the moon brought about by the bombardment of the moon by planetesimals and meteorites, especially as envisioned by evolutionary scientists, would render the dating of the origin of the moon by these methods impossible. It is often claimed that the age of the earth and of the solar system of about 4.5 billion years was confirmed by ages obtained for the moon. Actually, ages obtained for various moon rocks showed a very large spread, some giving a sample age of 20 billion years. The following table, reproduced from Whitcomb and DeYoung, 13 is based on data compiled by John G. Read, and shows some of the variations for Apollo sample material. Taylor also discusses some of the problems generated by ages obtained Jon lunar soil and rocks. He points out that soils in the maria had model rubidium-strontium ages of about 4.6 billion years, although they were supposedly derived from rocks which, according to radiometric dating methods, were only 3.6-3.8 billion years old; an impossible situation. Some soils gave model ages even greater than 4.6 billion years, the supposed age of the solar system. Taylor rejects these ages out of hand since, he declares, there is so much evidence indicating the formation of the solar system about 4.6 billion years ago. These ages are thus rejected as unacceptable. 14
Figure 1
Once it had been assumed that dating of meteorites had established the age of the solar system at approximately 4.6 billion years, evolutionists have clung tenaciously to that age, and calibrate events in earth history accordingly. Gale, Arden, and Hutchison, however, have discovered serious problems with the data from meteorites and the assumptions on which ages of these meteorites were derived, which had supposedly established an age of 4.5 billion years for the solar system. They declared, "We suspect that the lack of concordance may result in some part from the choice of isotope ratios for primitive lead, rather than from lead gain or uranium loss. It therefore follows that the whole of classical interpretation of the meteorite lead isotope data is in doubt, and that the radiometric estimates of the age of the Earth are placed in jeopardy. 15 This is not to infer that these scientists are declaring that the earth may be young, but certainly the 4.6 billion years religiously assumed by evolutionists for the age of the earth may be in serious doubt according to these scientists.
Furthermore, as described in the books by Whitcomb and Morris 11 and H. M. Morris, 12 there are a great number of physical processes that indicate a young age for the earth and solar system. It can be said that in dating moon rocks, radio chronologists have applied the same assumptions used in methods to date rocks on the earth, which may be totally invalid. Their interpretation of the order of events on the moon and the nature of various components of the surface of the moon, therefore, may be completely erroneous.
In his summing-up of the Kona conference on the origin of the moon, Wood states that the shift of confidence by lunar scientists in favor of the collision ejection model did not occur because strong evidence was presented that the moon was formed that way, or even that it was possible, but simply because the coaccretion model, most widely favored up until that time, was effectively disproved. 16 As Hughes stated, astrophysicists are actually embarrassed because of their admission, following the Apollo visits to the moon, that they still have little idea where the moon came from. 3
The Apollo missions to the moon, as well as the unmanned landings on the moon by Russian and American spacecraft, were a great scientific accomplishment, and the first step of Neil Armstrong on the moon on July 20, 1969, will always be remembered as one of the most memorable events in earth history, "One small step for man, but a giant leap forward for mankind." And in spite of, or better because of, all the data derived from these visits to the moon, we can say with greater confidence than ever that the best statement we can make, scientifically, concerning the origin of the moon is still . . .
  1. W.K Hartmann, R.J. Phillips, and G.J. Taylor, Eds., Origin of the Moon, Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, TX, 1986.
  2. W.K. Hartmann, et al, ibid. p. vi.
  3. David Hughes, Nature, vol. 327, p. 291 (1987).
  4. Stephen G. Brush, "Early History of Selenogony," in W.K. Hartmann, et al, ibid., p. 9.
  5. Stuart Ross Taylor, Planetary Science: A Lunar Perspective, Lunar and Planetary Institute, Houston, IX, 1982, p. 425.
  6. J.C. Whitcomb and D.B. DeYoung, The Moon--Its Creation, Form, and Significance, BMH Books, Winona Lake, IN, 1978, p. 39.
  7. R.B. Baldwin, A Fundamental Survey of the Moon, McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., 1965, p. 40 (as quoted by Whitcomb and DeYoung, Ref. 6).
  8. John A. Wood, "Moon Over Mauna Loa: A Review of Hypotheses of Formation of Earth's Moon," in W.K Hartmann, et al, ibid., p. 42.
  9. John A. Wood, ibid., p. 44.
  10. J.C. Whitcomb and D.B. DeYoung, ibid., p. 99.
  11. J.C. Whitcomb and H.M. Morris, The Genesis Flood, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, MI, 1961, pp. 333-344.
  12. H.M. Morris, Scientific Creationism, 2nd Ed., Creation-Life Publishers, Colorado Springs, CO, 1985, pp. 137-149.
  13. J.C. Whitcomb and D.B. DeYoung, ibid., p.100 (reproduced by permission).
  14. S.R. Taylor, ibid., pp. 123-126.
  15. N. Gale, J. Arden, and R. Hutchison, Nature (Physical Sciences), vol. 240, p. 57 (1972).
  16. John A. Wood, ibid., p. 47.
* At time of publication, Dr. Duane T. Gish was Senior Vice President of the Institute for Creation Research. He has written extensively on the scientific implications of the biblical doctrine of creation.