After moon’s age has been debated over for decades on end, a team of researchers from the University of California in Los Angeles, led by Dr. Melania Barboni now comes up with a new estimation. By analyzing zircon traces blasted into Earth’s orbit billions of years ago, when the solar system was only an infant, the researchers believe that the moon is roughly 4.51 billion years old.
The discovery was possible due to a comprehensive analysis of the lunar rocks gathered by the Apollo astronauts almost four decades ago. The team’s findings were published earlier this week, on January 11th in the journal Science Advances.
If the researchers’ estimates prove to be correct, this means the giant celestial body formed only 60 million years after the rest of the solar system came into being, give or take 10 million years. It is believed, even though this theory also has seen its fair share of controversy, that the moon formed after a planet sized object, dubbed Theia, collided with Earth in the early days of the solar system. The impact blew a huge amount of magma into the Earth’s orbit, which later solidified and gave birth to our planet’s natural satellite.
Rather than looking at other types of rocks, scientifically known as breccias, which have been cemented together following the meteor impact, the team of researchers focused on zirconium, a mineral found in both the Earth’s crust, as well as in moon rocks.
The researchers looked at the time that took lutetium to decay to hafnium and the level of uranium that had turned to lead in an effort to calculate how long ago zirconium initially formed. Hence, it is highly possible that Dr. Barboni could be right about her assessment by focusing on the moon’s pre-history instead of analyzing factors that led to the celestial body’s solidification.
Even though the head of terrestrial magnetism at Carnegie Institution for Science, Richard Carlson, believes the team of researchers is on the right track and further analysis is yet to be conducted, he expressed his concerns in regard to the scientists’ zircon-dissolution techniques employed in the study. Furthermore, he also expressed doubts in relation to assumptions about hafnium and lutetium in the early days of the solar system that could impact the accuracy of the researchers’ estimate. However, the team stands by its 4.51-billion-year estimate, but it is also aware more research is needed.
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