Past Orientation of the Lunar Spin Axis

Science  01 Aug 1975:
Vol. 189, Issue 4200, pp. 377-379
DOI: 10.1126/science.189.4200.377


The orientation of the lunar spin axis is traced from the early history of the earth-moon system to the present day. Tides raised on the earth by the moon have caused an expansion of the lunar orbit. Tides raised on the moon by the earth have de-spun the moon to synchronous rotation and driven its spin axis to a Cassini state—that is, in a coprecessing configuration, coplanar with the lunar orbit normal and the normal to the Laplacian plane (which is at present coincident with the normal to the ecliptic). This combination of events has resulted in a complex history for the lunar spin axis. For much of the period during which its orbital semimajor axis expanded between 30 and 40 earth radii, the obliquity of the moon was of order 25° to 50°. In fact, for a brief period the obliquity periodically attained a value as high as 77°; that is, the spin axis of the moon was only 13° from lying in its orbit plane.

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