Scientists have uncovered new evidence suggesting that the Moon is older than previously estimated. The moon age revelation stems from a study of lunar crystals found in Apollo 17 mission lunar dust.
The research, led by Dr Jennika Greer of the University of Glasgow, involved analysing microscopic lunar crystals using advanced analytical techniques. By employing atom probe tomography, the researchers could determine the age of these lunar crystals with unprecedented precision.
The Moon’s formation has been a topic of great scientific debate, with estimates for its age varying from around 4.42 billion years. However, the study’s findings support the idea that the Moon’s age may be older than previously thought. According to Dr. Greer and her team, the lunar crystals and, by extension, the Moon itself, are at least 4.46 billion years old.
This new age estimate pushes back the formation of the Moon by approximately 40 million years, establishing a minimum age for the Moon’s creation within 110 million years after the formation of the solar system.
The Moon is believed to have formed when a Mars-sized object collided with Earth during the early days of the solar system. The high-energy impact initially caused the Moon’s surface to melt. As the lunar magma ocean cooled, the crystals in question formed, effectively capturing a snapshot of the Moon’s birth.
The study’s revolutionary approach involved atom probe tomography, which uses a laser to evaporate atoms from finely sharpened “nano tips.” This process allowed researchers to measure the proportion of uranium and lead isotopes within the crystals, revealing their age. As uranium decays into lead over time, this technique provided a precise age for the lunar crystals.
Dr. Romain Tartèse from the University of Manchester, not part of the research team, commended the findings, stating that the Moon is indeed at least 4.46 billion years old. He also suggested that the giant impact responsible for the Moon’s formation likely occurred a few tens of million years earlier than previously thought.
However, Dr Tartèse pointed out a potential limitation in the study. The research assumes that the findings from the Apollo samples accurately represent the entire Moon’s composition, an assumption that may not hold true. He emphasised the importance of returning additional lunar samples from various regions on the Moon through future missions to gain a more comprehensive understanding.
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