A new fact about the moon: It is older than previously thought

  • The moon was formed from a ball of rock that formed after colliding with a body the size of Mars

  • Finding zircon crystals has allowed us to accurately determine the age of the Moon

  • The life expectancy of the Moon should be increased by at least 40 million years

  • Radioactive dating allowed the number of parent atoms and daughter atoms to be counted, so scientists could calculate the passage of time

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The new issue of the scientific journal “Geochemical Perspectives Letters” publishes the results of the latest research on lunar samples collected by Apollo astronauts in 1972. Among them, zircon crystals were found, which must have formed when the blocks that make up the Moon today cooled. From the Earth and the object that struck our planet. Therefore, determining the age of these crystals is also determining the age of the moon itself.

How old is the moon?

Philip Heck, senior director of the Negaunee Center for Interactive Research and a professor at the University of Chicago and lead author of the study, explains:

Photo: Dr. Jenica Greer

Zirconium in samples from the moon

Researchers found that zircons found on the moon were created 4.46 billion years ago. This means that the previously accepted age of the Moon needs to increase by only 40 million years. Heck adds:

How was the age of the moon calculated?

How do you know how old this zircon is? Here, a relatively new research method comes to the rescue, which dissolves some of the material by passing it through a mass spectrometer. The speed at which the particles move is then measured. This varies depending on the material it is made of.

An atom-by-atom analysis, performed using instruments at Northwestern University, showed how many atoms were inside the zircon crystals that had undergone radioactive decay. If we know the decay time of radioactive zirconium, we can calculate the amount of time that has passed since its formation. Based on this, scientists learned that the zircon from the lunar sample formed 4.46 billion years ago, and has been “losing weight” since then via radiation.

Professor Philip Hick compares this process to observing sand flowing through an hourglass:

Do you want to start observing space yourself? It is worth considering purchasing a home telescope. Below you will find some recommended models:

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