The Azerbaijan State News Agency

WORLD

The moon is even older than we thought

The moon is even older than we thought

Baku, October 26, AZERTAC

A new study of lunar minerals has captured the last stage of the moon solidifying into rock, according to National Geographic.

Half a century has passed since humans set foot on the moon, but the lunar rocks that they gathered are still revealing important information about Earth’s lambent neighbor. Some of that material has been preserved for decades so that it could be studied with more advanced scientific instruments—and now lunar material collected in 1972 has shown that the moon is millions of years older than previously thought.

By studying the atomic clues trapped in a crystal of zircon, one of the oldest mineral to survive from the moon’s formation, scientists have determined that the moon is at least 4.46 billion years old. The age, published this week in the journal Geochemical Perspectives Letters, bumps previously measured ages back in time by 40 million years—closer to the start of the solar system an estimated 4.57 billion years ago.

Pinning down the age of the moon can help scientists chronicle the sequence of events during the critical early days. “Timing is everything,” says first author Jennika Greer, a cosmochemist at the University of Glasgow who worked on the project when she was a graduate student at the University of Chicago. “Our solar system has been around for a while, but a lot of really dynamic processes happened in those first million years.”

When the solar system was young, the infant Earth was moonless, a solitary planet looping around the primordial sun. But Earth’s early days were anything but tranquil. Scientists believe that early in our planet’s history, a Mars-size object slammed into the proto-Earth and rejiggered both worlds.

The heat of the impact liquefied everything—the young Earth and the planetary destroyer—fusing the two bodies into one. Out of this mass flew a smaller ball of molten rock, which fell into a stable orbit and eventually cooled to form the moon.

The moon’s insides congealed into differentiated layers of the mantle and crust. New minerals crystallized out of the rock melt, and one of the last to form were zircons. These crystals capture the final stages of the moon solidifying into rock, marking the beginning of our natural satellite as we know it today.

Counting atoms

Zircons are a favorite mineral among scientists because they’re hardy. These micrometer-size crystals can withstand weathering over billions of years to preserve the geochemical secrets of their birth. They also capture uranium isotopes from the environment as they form, which serve as a timer that starts from the moment the zircons crystallize.

Uranium isotopes decay into lead at predictable rates. By counting the number of lead atoms that form and the uranium atoms that remain, researchers can work out how much time has passed since the zircons hardened from molten material.

The study authors probed the zircons embedded in a lunar rock sample collected during Apollo 17 in 1972, and they constructed a 3D map of the atoms. Tallying the lead isotopes resulted in an age of 4.46 billion years, the oldest age for the lunar crust’s formation yet.

This age was previously determined by Greer's collaborators led by Bidong Zhang and Audrey Bouvier in 2021, but the report drew skepticism. Critics pointed to the fact that lead atoms tend to migrate to form pockets of high or low concentrations throughout the rock. Depending on where one looked, there was a chance that they might come across these unevenly distributed lead sites and miscalculate the zircon’s age.

To assuage these concerns, Bouvier approached Greer’s team to count the atoms again, this time with an ion probe that could sample the rock at a much higher spatial resolution that was used in the previous study. A finer probe would allow the team to identify nanosized regions of enriched or depleted lead atoms, if any were present. But they found none.

“In this zircon, everything was homogeneous, so we didn't even have to worry about that,” says study author Philipp Heck, a cosmochemist at the Field Museum and the University of Chicago. The result confirmed that the previously measured age of 4.46 billion years was accurate.

“It's a very, very nice study,” says Melanie Barboni, a geochemist at Arizona State University who wasn’t involved in the research. Barboni has studied other isotopes in lunar zircons to discover that the moon’s interior first settled into distinct layers 4.51 billion years ago, an episode that preceded the final stages of crust formation captured in the new study.

Barboni says the new research is compatible with her own findings. “A lot of papers propose that the moon formed much later than that, 4.3 billion years, for example,” she adds. “That clearly is not possible with that data.”

The history of the moon and Earth

Pinpointing when the moon solidified gives future researchers a reference point for modeling the moon’s evolution. “Chronology helps us put everything into context,” Greer says. “Then we can start understanding the processes that are going on.” Knowing what happened and when during the moon’s formative years could help explain why Earth’s satellite looks the way it does today.

The true interest in studying the moon lies in what it can tell us about Earth. As celestial companions with a common origin, the fates of the Earth and moon are tied. But like a wily criminal, the geologically active Earth has a penchant for burying and destroying evidence of past events. The moon is a less deceptive partner—the lack of tectonic activity means that geologic records on the surface last for eons.

Scientists can look at the lunar evidence to infer what might have also happened on Earth around the same time. For example, in that fateful collision that formed the moon, Earth was rendered uninhabitable—nothing could have survived such a catastrophic event—and all its water could have boiled off, Greer says. If so, then water must have been returned to our planet at some point, perhaps delivered by impacting asteroids, which also would have left clues on the moon.

While the new study dates the completion of the moon’s formation at a minimum of 4.46 billion years, the entire process, from the planetary collision to the eventual hardening, unfolded over millennia. Zircons represent the final vestiges of the lunar magma ocean—the last chapter of the moon’s violent beginnings and the onset of its more placid epoch.

Both Heck and Barboni wouldn’t be surprised if future researchers find an older zircon that produces an even older age for the moon. Perhaps a more ancient crystal lies among NASA’s lunar stash, though Heck says they’re rare. Or maybe more are waiting to be discovered on the moon where humans haven’t yet trodden.

Several missions are in the works to bring lunar samples back from where no one has gone before. In 2024 China will launch a robotic mission that will return samples from the far side of the moon, and NASA’s Artemis III mission aims to land humans on the lunar south pole in December 2025. The new rocks collected at these sites could help refine the story of the moon’s origins.

Share news on social media

Follow us on social network

Ceremony to commission "Khudafarin" hydroelectric complex and inaugurate "Giz Galasi" hydroelectric complex was held with participation of Azerbaijani and Iranian Presidents

Meeting between President Ilham Aliyev and President Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi was held at state border between Azerbaijan and Iran

Speaker of Latvian Parliament arrives in Fuzuli

Azerbaijani hammer thrower wins gold medal in Poland

New rule banning heading in youth football games

Speaker of Latvian parliament embarks on official visit to Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani boxers secure 27 medals at “Heydar Aliyev Cup 2024” international tournament

13 killed as bus falls into ravine in E. Pakistan

Booklet highlighting Karabakh University to be issued

Sir Paul McCartney first UK billionaire musician

® Azercell presents its first ESG report at “GSMA M360 2024” conference

ICYF-ERC appeals to 10th Kazan Forum’s participants on COP29

Azerbaijan represented at 79th General Assembly and Congress of International Military Sports Council

First Vice-President Mehriban Aliyeva shared Instagram post on Zangilan trip VIDEO

Death toll rises to 7 in storm-battered Houston

Water disputes causing conflicts around the world, Turkish President Erdogan warns

Azerbaijani delegation continues visit to Kingdom of Morocco

Foundation stone was laid for internal road and communication network of Zangilan city VIDEO

President Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva attended inauguration of Zangilan Mosque VIDEO

President Ilham Aliyev inaugurated “Zangilan” and “Shayifli” hydroelectric power plants VIDEO

Azerbaijan to host Ski Mountaineering World Cup for the first time

Azerbaijan`s female para athlete crowned three-time World champion

President Ilham Aliyev laid foundation stone for Minjivan settlement in Zangilan district VIDEO

Speaker of Azerbaijan’s Milli Majlis highlights challenges in ensuring gender quality at Geneva conference

President Ilham Aliyev and First Lady Mehriban Aliyeva participated in opening of Aghali hotel in Zangilan district VIDEO

At least 50 killed in heavy rains, floods in Afghanistan’s Ghor province

Foundation stone was laid for Mashanli village in Jabrayil district VIDEO

President Ilham Aliyev laid foundation stone for Sarijalli village in Jabrayil district VIDEO

Foundation stone was laid for Karkhulu village in Jabrayil VIDEO

Azerbaijani boxer triumphs at Hungarian tournament

President Ilham Aliyev laid foundation stone for Boyuk Marjanli village in Jabrayil district VIDEO

Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry: Engineering support measures are underway in liberated territories VIDEO

Jewelry collection inspired by national motifs presented in US

Hong Kong digital yuan pilot lacks P2P capabilities

Azerbaijan's Prosecutor General strengthens ties at ECO Meeting in Tajikistan

WADA criticises U.S. for undermining anti-doping efforts

California continues to lead in U.S. unemployment rate

Juventus dismiss manager Massimiliano Allegri after Coppa Italia final

Japan passes a revised law allowing joint child custody for divorced parents for the first time

Turkish-Greek collaboration of Romeo and Juliet premiers in Athens

Azerbaijani oil price surges in global markets

Oil prices rise in global markets

Vatican tightens procedures on supposed ‘supernatural events’

Azerbaijan, Cuba discuss COP29-related issues

James Webb telescope discovers 2 merging black holes

Homes cut off after river bursts banks in northern Italy

Up to 2,000 gallons oil may spill into Gulf of Mexico as barge hits bridge in U.S. Texas

Timberwolves force Game 7 by blowing out Nuggets 115-70 behind 27 points from Anthony Edwards

Baku hosts “Enhancing Ambition, Enabling Action: COP29 Sustainable Business Forum”

Azerbaijan name 14 judokas to fight for glory at Malaga Junior European Cup 2024

President of Belarus Aleksandr Lukashenko concludes his state visit to Azerbaijan

"Anatolian Phoenix - 2024" exercise wraps up VIDEO

® Azercell participated in ADA's Employability Week

Rabat hosts presentation of documentary about Azerbaijan

‘Kuwait keen on expanding cooperation with Azerbaijan in healthcare and medical science’

South Africa ends rescue efforts at collapsed building and revises figures: 33 dead, no more missing

President Ilham Aliyev and President Aleksandr Lukashenko visited Shusha city VIDEO

UN-Azerbaijan relations discussed

Minister Mukhtar Babayev: Azerbaijan is developing law on decarbonization

Azerbaijan presents tourism opportunities at Guangzhou International Travel Fair

UN cuts back on hiring and air conditioning over tight budget

Azerbaijan, Denmark explore ways for football cooperation

AFFA President forges global ties at FIFA Congress

Azerbaijani young prodigy triumphs at violin competition in Italy

® Nar wishes good luck to Azerbaijani national volleyball teams in Golden European League!

Azerbaijan’s Combined Arms Army holds seasonal maintenance of all types of weapons and equipment

There were 1,005,737 attempts to connect to the network with blocked IMEI codes in Azerbaijan

New Dutch government will aim to 'opt out' of EU asylum rules

Glamour and grit are both on show in a London exhibition of photos from Elton John's collection

Two Azerbaijani boxers qualify for final of Russian tournament, while three fighters bag bronzes

N. Korea fires short-range ballistic missiles toward East Sea: South Korean JCS

12 killed in lightning strikes in India's West Bengal

Joel Matip and Thiago Alcantara to leave Liverpool when contracts expire at end of season

Foreign Ministry: French side must apologize for recent remark about Azerbaijan

® The Holcim national master competition 'I AM A MASTER!' invites the country's top professionals

Azerbaijan Army’s Chief of General Staff watches tactical exercise of Artillery units

Tunisia prevents 21,500 undocumented immigrants from crossing Mediterranean in January-April

Brazil named as hosts of FIFA Women’s World Cup 2027

150 dead, 112 missing as heavy rains, floods wreak havoc in southern Brazil

President Ilham Aliyev and President Aleksandr Lukashenko visited Jidir Duzu plain VIDEO

Presidents of Azerbaijan and Belarus visited Bulbul House-Museum in Shusha

Azerbaijan represented at annual summit of Pacific Asia Travel Association

Release of the Press Service of the President

Presidents of Azerbaijan and Belarus viewed "Heydar Aliyev and Garabagh" exhibition at the Creativity Center in Shusha

Azerbaijani and Belarus Presidents informed about master plan of Shusha

Presidents of Azerbaijan and Belarus viewed bullet-riddled monuments of Natavan, Bulbul and Uzeyir Hajibayli in Shusha

Azerbaijani PM meets with Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister

President Ilham Aliyev and President Aleksandr Lukashenko viewed bus jointly manufactured by Azerbaijan and Belarus, as well as tractors presented by the Belarusian President

President Ilham Aliyev and President Aleksandr Lukashenko visited Shusha city VIDEO

Azerbaijani and Armenian parliament speakers agree to sustain dialogue

Large Buddha statue unearthed in northern Laos

Milli Majlis signs MoU with IPU

TikTok is testing 60-minute videos, which could be a big threat to YouTube

Azerbaijani delegation embarks on visit to Kingdom of Morocco

Catch special fares from AZAL for travel between Baku and Beijing

Azerbaijani oil price surges in global markets

Presidents of Azerbaijan and Belarus visited devastated areas of Fuzuli city and reviewed the city’s master plan VIDEO

Foreign Ministry: The new location of the Embassy of Azerbaijan in Iran has already been determined

Oil prices rise in global markets

Distinguished Visitors Day was held as part of “Anatolian Phoenix - 2024” exercise