Like, 40 million years older...
It's been more than 50 years since we've stepped foot on the moon, but new information shows that we may have more to learn.
According to a recently published study from Northwestern University, scientists studying tiny zircon crystals in lunar dust — brought back by Apollo 17 astronauts in 1972 — now believe the moon might be 40 million years older than previously thought.
The moon is thought to have formed more than 4 billion years ago when a Mars-sized object crashed into a young Earth, knocking a chunk of molten rock from our planet into space.
"When the surface was molten like that, zircon crystals couldn't form and survive," Philipp Heck, the Field Museum's Robert A. Pritzker Curator for Meteorites and Polar Studies and a senior author of the study said in a statement. "So, any crystals on the Moon's surface must have formed after this lunar magma ocean cooled. Otherwise, they would have been melted and their chemical signatures would be erased."
Using an atom-by-atom analysis called atom probe tomography in conjunction with radiometric dating, the team estimated the age of zircon crystals found in the samples of lunar dust: 4.46 billion years old.
Of course, 40 million years is just a drop in the bucket when it comes to the moon — previous estimates put it at 4.425 billion years old. In either case, the moon is very, very old.
It behooves us to learn about the moon in such detail as it's a crucial partner in our planetary system, and it affects us every single day.
"It stabilizes the Earth's rotational axis. It's the reason there are 24 hours in a day. It's the reason we have tides," said Heck. "Without the moon, life on Earth would look different. It's a part of our natural system that we want to better understand, and our study provides a tiny puzzle piece in that whole picture."
And we're about to learn even more. NASA's Artemis missions will see humans return to the moon in the coming years, which will undoubtedly lead to new discoveries about our lunar companion.
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