"When the planet's equator and its orbit are nearly perpendicular, the satellite becomes confused about which way is 'up', and its orbit becomes elongated due to sun's meddling. In the case of our moon, the varying distance from Earth on its eccentric orbit then triggered strong tidal flexing within the moon, which fought back against the efforts of Earth's tides to push it outward, resulting in a stalemate," the SETI Institute added.
"Such a stalemate can last for millions of years, during which Earth kept losing its spin while the moon did not go into a wider orbit. Instead, its orbit became more tilted. Once the Earth had lost enough of its original spin, the moon broke out of this stalled state and continued its outward journey."
Eventually, the moon's gravity was enough to move our tilt back to about 23.5 degrees, and tidal interactions between the Earth and the moon changed the moon's orbital inclination to the ecliptic, they added.
A study based on the research was recently published in the journal Nature.
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