The moon may be older than we thought. Analysis of samples collected during the Apollo 17 mission showed that there are crystals hidden inside the space rocks that were formed 40 million years before the generally accepted date of the “birth” of the Silver Globe. This means that our satellite may be over 4.46 billion years old.
The astronauts of the Apollo 17 mission, which reached the surface of our satellite in 1972, took with them a piece of the Moon – over 100 kilograms of soil and rock samples. They are still analyzed and allow scientists to better understand the history of the Silver Globe. The latest study, the results of which were published in “Geochemical Perspectives Letters”, shows that the Moon may have accompanied the Earth for much longer than previously thought.
Zircon on the Moon
To determine the age of the satellite, researchers analyzed zircon crystals found in the samples – a mineral that requires very high temperatures to form. According to the most popular hypothesis, the Moon was created when an object called Theia hit the Earth. Huge amounts of magma then flew into space, initially forming a rock disk, which then merged into the Moon. Zircon crystals could have formed under such conditions.
The crystals were subjected to APT atomic tomography, which involves “evaporating” individual atoms from the crystals using a laser. In this way, scientists can determine their mass and determine the proportions of two elements: uranium and iron. Radioactive uranium decays over time and turns into lead, so this ratio could shed light on the age of the crystals.
Crystal analysis showed that zircon formed more than 4.46 billion years ago. This was quite a surprise for scientists – previously the age of the Moon was estimated at about 4.42 billion years. The latest data shows that our satellite is at least 40 million years older than we thought.
The key to life on Earth
As Philipp Heck from the University of Chicago, co-author of the study, explained, the gigantic collision that formed the Moon was a cataclysm for the Earth. The satellite also had an impact on stabilizing the rotational axis of our planet and reduced its rotational speed.
– The date of the formation of the Moon is important because only after this event did the Earth become a habitable planet – explained the researcher.
“The moon helps stabilize the Earth’s axis, providing a stable climate,” added Bidong Zhang of the University of California, co-author of the paper. – The moon’s gravitational pull helps shape the ocean’s ecosystem. The moon inspires human cultures and explorations. NASA and other space agencies view the Moon as a milestone for future exploration space – he said.
Main photo source: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center/Arizona State University