Brief Follow-up on Recent Studies of Theia’s Accretion

Nathan A. Kaib, Nicolas B. Cowan

accepted to Icarus



Kaib & Cowan (2015) recently used terrestrial planet formation simulations to conclude that the moon-forming impactor (Theia) had only a ~5% or less chance of having the same oxygen isotope composition as Earth, while Mastrobuono-Battisti et al. (2015) used seemingly similar simulations and methods to arrive at a higher value of ~20% or more. Here we derive the results of both papers from a single set of simulations. Compared to Kaib & Cowan (2015), the analysis of Mastrobuono-Battisti et al. (2015) systematically yields more massive Theia analogs and imposes flatter isotopic gradients across the original protoplanetary disk. Both of these effects diminish isotopic differences between Earth and Theia analogs. While it is notoriously difficult to produce systems resembling our actual terrestrial planets, the analysis of Kaib & Cowan (2015) more often selects and analyzes Earth and Mars analogs at orbital locations near the real planets. Given this, we conclude that the greater isotopic differences between Earth and Theia found in Kaib & Cowan (2015) better reflect the predictions of terrestrial planet formation models. Finally, although simulation uncertainties and a terrestrial contribution to Moon formation enhance the fraction of Theia analogs consistent with the canonical giant impact hypothesis, this fraction still remains in the 5-8% range.