In a groundbreaking revelation that has left the scientific community utterly flabbergasted, researchers have unearthed evidence suggesting that our moon is an astonishing 40 million years older than we initially believed.
This shocking discovery was made possible thanks to moon samples meticulously gathered by astronauts during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, marking humanity’s last footprints on the lunar surface. These samples, a part of an extensive 110-kilogram collection of dust and rock, were brought back to Earth, destined for in-depth scientific scrutiny.
NASA, the American space behemoth, has revealed that prevailing theories regarding the moon’s inception involve a cataclysmic collision. An object, comparable in size to Mars, is believed to have violently collided with our Earth, resulting in a chaotic symphony of debris from both celestial bodies, which eventually gave birth to the moon.
However, pinning down the exact moment of the moon’s creation has proven to be a herculean task. Now, drawing upon the 1972 samples, this new study posits that the moon came into existence approximately 4.46 billion years ago.
This extraordinary research was spearheaded by a team of experts from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Illinois, and their findings have been meticulously detailed in a recent publication in Geochemical Perspective Letters.
The scientists zeroed in on minute crystals embedded in the lunar dust, discovering traces of a mineral named zircon. It is believed that this zircon came into being as the moon’s surface underwent a period of cooling, transitioning from a molten state in the aftermath of the aforementioned cosmic collision.
The age of the dust sample was estimated using atom probe tomography, a technique unbeknownst to scientists when the sample was initially collected 51 years ago, according to Philipp Heck, the study’s lead author and the senior director of research at the Field Museum.
The precious lunar sample originated from the Taurus-Littrow valley, located on the moon’s near side – the hemisphere perpetually facing our Earth. It has been meticulously preserved at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, until now.
Heck highlighted zircon’s resilience, stating that it can “withstand the ravages of time and the breakdown of rocks during weathering.”
This study builds upon a previous one conducted in 2021, where the team analyzed the amounts of uranium and lead in the zircon crystals, using these measurements to estimate the mineral’s age based on the radioactive decay of uranium to lead over eons.
However, the latest study aimed to validate the results of its predecessor, which lacked conclusive evidence. The research team deployed state-of-the-art, highly sensitive instruments to scrutinize the sample material atom by atom.
Jennika Greer, a vital contributor to the study and a researcher at the School of Geographical and Earth Sciences at the University of Glasgow, marveled at the implications of this discovery. Speaking to Reuters, she exclaimed, “This is a monumental example of how nano and atomic scale research can unravel the mysteries of the grand phenomena in our universe.”
Heck, from the Field Museum, elucidated on the significance of the moon’s formation, explaining how it was a pivotal moment that altered the rotational velocity of our Earth. He stated, “The date of the moon’s birth is crucial, as it was only after this celestial dance that our planet transformed into a cradle for life.”
Greer expressed her enthusiasm and optimism for future research, stating, “It’s absolutely thrilling to have undeniable proof that the rock in our hands is the most ancient piece of the moon ever discovered. Understanding the age of an object allows us to weave together the story of its past, unlocking secrets and answering longstanding questions about our moon.”