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The Moon

What’s It Made of? Where Did It Come From?


Michael L. Allen
Department of Physics and Astronomy
Washington State University


The overall goal of this interrupted case study is for students to practice confirmation/disconfirmation reasoning while learning the basics of solar system and Moon formation. Students will compare predictions corresponding to various Moon formation scenarios with the measured composition of Moon rocks returned by the Apollo missions. Given five different formation scenarios, students will reason by process of elimination to identify the most likely scenario.  An overview of solar system formation is given at the outset.  A series of reflective questions at the end of the case connects the content with wider issues in planetary science involving other moons and other solar systems. The case, which is self-contained, is suitable for undergraduate lower-division students of any major, although it is ideally targeted at non-STEM majors who have had some introduction to the solar system.

  • Recite the standard model for solar system formation.
  • Correlate specific predictions made by the standard model with confirming observations from our solar system.
  • Recite hypotheses for Moon formation and make corresponding predictions as to Moon rock composition.
  • Compare predicted with observed Moon rock content and eliminate inconsistent Moon formation hypotheses, e.g., “observed is less than predicted by model A, therefore model A is rejected.”
  • Confirm the currently accepted Moon formation hypothesis based upon comparative rock content, e.g., “observed is equal to that predicted by model B, therefore model B is the most likely model to be correct.”
Keywords: Moon; moon formation; planetary science; solar system; Apollo; moon rock; Earth; meteorite; planet; process of elimination
Topical Area: N/A
Educational Level: Undergraduate lower division, Undergraduate upper division
Formats: PDF
Type/Method: Interrupted
Language: English
Subject Headings: Astronomy   Geology   Physics  
Date Posted: 4/15/2019
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

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