How the Moon Formed

The forceful creation of the moon may have been the  reason why life on Earth could begin.

The moon was a day short of being full when I watched it creep over Two-Top Mountain on the border between Idaho and Montana in early December. The mountain was a giant crystal, white with fresh snow and sparkling in the late afternoon sun. As a photographer, I have known for years that the easiest way to capture the moon and a landscape together without computer enhancement was to go out a day or two before the full moon. The moon, rising in the east, would appear full, but ascends above the skyline before sunset, making for a perfect exposure of both the mountain and moon.

I had a question though: does everyone on Earth, including those in the southern hemisphere, see the same phase of the moon at the same time? Was someone in Brazil or South Africa or Australia going to see this as a full moon as well? A quick check of the NASA website said that this was so. I was intrigued and pursued my moon study a bit more.

What I discovered is the ongoing discussion on why we have a moon at all. There have been a number of hypotheses over the years, but the one that is gaining the most traction is called, The Giant Impactor Theory. This states that during the early stages of the Earth’s formation, say about 4.5 billion years ago, a large object, roughly the size of today’s Mars, impacted with the Earth. Experts have given this body the name, Theia. The impact with Theia, thought to be 100 million times stronger than the meteor that ended the dinosaurs, destroyed Theia and sent chunks of it and Earth hurtling back out into space where they slowly congealed into the mass we call the moon.

There is a lot of scientific evidence for this theory. First, the chemical make-up of the moon and the Earth are very similar, but not identical. That is important because every planet seems to have its own chemical signature. A moon formed from Theia and Earth should show properties of both in different layers. Moon samples are very similar to but not exactly like those of Earth, meaning that there was some other matter mixed in—Theia.

Second, the core of the Earth is largely iron, while the core of the Moon is much less dense. This is consistent with the Impact Theory in that dense Earth iron would likely not shoot into space as readily as lighter materials.

As opposed to iron, the lighter gases such as nitrogen would not survive a trip through the atmosphere and would have burned off. Rock samples from the Moon are devoid of some of these lighter substances.

Finally, this is the only theory that can account for the intense heat that moon rock samples show.

More importantly, this theory accounts for two more things. Computer modelling has demonstrated that a colossal impact (or possibly a series of impacts) may be responsible for the tilt and the spin of the Earth, effectively the jumpstart for life on Earth.

The moon is full on January 17, meaning that today it will be in the eastern sky before the sun sets. This is a perfect opportunity to get out and really take a look at our nearest neighbor, a chunk of rock that was likely once part of the Earth and the formation of which may be why we are here at all.


Help Idaho Wildlife

When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.

C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles! 

See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live. 

And tell them that you heard about it from!

Wildlife License Plates

Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.

No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.

Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.

Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program.

I think it is time we let the Legislature know that Idahoan support wildlife funding and that we would like to see these generic plates come to fruition.

"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson

That is embarrassing, but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.

Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.

Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.

Readers Write:

"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman

"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.

To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version 


Copies are also available at:

Post Register

Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)

Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls

Harriman State Park, Island Park

Museum of Idaho

Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming

Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah

Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho