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May 24 2013

Earth's tides are shoving the moon away faster


EARTH is shoving the moon away faster now than it has done for most of the past 50 million years, says a new model for the way tides influence the lunar orbit. The result helps solve a mystery concerning the moon's age that has long vexed astronomers.

The moon's gravity creates a daily cycle of low and high tides. This dissipates energy between the two bodies, slowing Earth's spin on its axis and causing the moon's orbit to expand at a rate of about 3.8 centimetres per year. If that rate has always been the same, the moon should be 1.5 billion years old, yet some lunar rocks are 4.5 billion years old.

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