The earth is estimated to be 4.5 billion to 5 billion years old, based on radioactive dating of lunar rocks and meteorites, which are thought to have formed at the same time. The origin of the earth continues to be controversial. Among the theories as to its origin, the most prominent are gravitational condensation hypotheses, which suggest that the entire solar system was formed at one time in a single series of processes resulting in the accumulation of diffuse interstellar gases and dust into a solar system of discrete bodies. The generally accepted theory of the moon's formation hypothesizes that the early earth was impacted by a Mars-sized object, and that the collision ejected material that later formed the moon. Older and now generally discredited theories of the earth's formation invoked extraordinary events, such as the gravitational disruption of a star passing close to the sun or the explosion of a companion star to the sun.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.