The Moon is Earth's only known natural satellite, and the fifth largest satellite in the Solar System. It is the largest natural satellite of a planet in the Solar System relative to the size of its primary, having a quarter the diameter of Earth and 1⁄81 its mass. The Moon is the second densest satellite after Io, a satellite of Jupiter. It is in synchronous rotation with Earth,always showing the same face; the near side is marked with dark volcanic maria among the bright ancient crustal highlands and prominent impact craters. It is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun, although its surface is actually very dark, with a similar reflectance to coal. Its prominence in the sky and its regular cycle of phases have since ancient times made the Moon an important culturalinfluence on language, calendars, art and mythology. The Moon's gravitational influence produces the ocean tides and the minute lengthening of the day. The Moon's current orbital distance, about thirty times the diameter of the Earth, causes it to appear almost the same size in the sky as the Sun, allowing it to cover the Sun nearly precisely in total solar eclipses.
The prevailinghypothesis today is that the Earth–Moon system formed as a result of a giant impact: a Mars-sized body hit the nearly formed proto-Earth, blasting material into orbit around the proto-Earth, which accreted to form the Moon. Giant impacts are thought to have been common in the early Solar System. Computer simulations modelling a giant impact are consistent with measurements of the angular momentumof the Earth–Moon system, and the small size of the lunar core; they also show that most of the Moon came from the impactor, not from the proto-Earth. However, meteorites show that other inner Solar System bodies such as Mars and Vesta have very different oxygen and tungsten isotopic compositions to the Earth, while the Earth and Moon have near-identical isotopic compositions. Post-impact mixingof the vaporized material between the forming Earth and Moon could have equalized their isotopic compositions, although this is debated.
The large amount of energy released in the giant impact event and the subsequent reaccretion of material in Earth orbit would have melted the outer shell of the Earth, forming a magma ocean.The newly formed Moon would also have had its own lunar magma ocean;estimates for its depth range from about 500 km to the entire radius of the Moon.
The Moon makes a complete orbit around the Earth with respect to the fixed stars about once every 27.3 days (its sidereal period). However, since the Earth is moving in its orbit about the Sun at the same time, it takes slightly longer for the Moon to show the same phase to Earth, which is about 29.5 days (itssynodic period). Unlike most satellites of other planets, the Moon orbits nearer the ecliptic plane than to the planet's equatorial plane. The Moon's orbit is subtly perturbed by the Sun and Earth in many small, complex and interacting ways. For example, the plane of the Moon's orbital motion gradually rotates, which affects other aspects of lunar motion. These follow-on effects aremathematically described by Cassini's laws.
The Moon is in synchronous rotation: it rotates about its axis in about the same time it takes to orbit the Earth. This results in it nearly always keeping the same face turned towards the Earth. The Moon used to rotate at a faster rate, but early in its history, its rotation slowed and became tidally locked in this orientation as a result offrictional effects associated with tidal deformations caused by the Earth. The side of the Moon that faces Earth is called the near side, and the opposite side the far side. The far side is often called the "dark side," but in fact, it is illuminated as often as the near side: once per lunar day, during the new Moon phase we observe on Earth when the near side is dark.
The Moon has an...