Unveiling the Moon’s true age: Defying expectations and igniting scientific wonder

Thanks to Zircon crystals
Unveiling the Moon’s true age: Defying expectations and igniting scientific wonder
Moon's true age revealed

New research based on lunar dust collected by Apollo 17 astronauts has unveiled a fascinating revelation—the moon is actually 40 million years older than previously believed. When NASA astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt landed on the moon in 1972, they gathered rocks and dust from the lunar surface. Recent analysis of those samples discovered zircon crystals with an age of 4.46 billion years, indicating that the moon formed earlier than the estimated age of 4.425 billion years.

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The findings, published in the journal Geochemical Perspectives Letters, shed light on the moon’s early history. The zircon crystals, considered the oldest known solids formed after the massive collision that created the moon, serve as a crucial reference point for understanding lunar chronology. The researchers explain that during the chaotic early days of our solar system, a Mars-sized object collided with Earth over 4 billion years ago, ejecting a rocky fragment that eventually became the moon. However, pinpointing the exact age of this pivotal event has posed challenges for scientists.

Lunar melting

The impact of the Mars-sized object caused the moon’s surface to melt, preventing the formation and survival of zircon crystals. Consequently, any crystals found on the moon’s surface must have formed after the lunar magma ocean cooled down. The recent analysis used advanced atomic analysis techniques, specifically atom probe tomography, to examine the composition and age of the crystals. By tracking the radioactive decay of uranium atoms within the zircon crystals, scientists determined their age and subsequently inferred the moon’s minimum age.

Lead isotopes

The research team’s use of lead isotopes within the lunar dust sample confirmed that the zircon crystals were indeed 4.46 billion years old, solidifying the moon’s age. This discovery provides a valuable anchor point for understanding the moon’s history and its influence on Earth, as it plays a crucial role in stabilizing our planet’s rotational axis, causing tides, and maintaining a 24-hour day.

Moreover, the study highlights the importance of continued scientific exploration and analysis of lunar samples, which offer insights into our natural satellite and its significant role in our planetary system.

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