A UCLA-led research team reports that the moon is at least 40 to 140 million years older than previously thought. Bob Mezan reports.
The moon is much older than scientists thought. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have released a study which puts the moon's creation at roughly 4.51 billion years ago, instead of the previously accepted 4.3 billion years. Scientists from UCLA studied fragments of moon rocks called zircon, which were collected during the Apollo 14 mission. By measuring the radioactive decay of various elements in the zircon, they were able to get precise measurements, according to the project's lead researcher, Melanie Barboni. SOUNDBITE (English): Melanie Barboni, UCLA researcher, saying: "We're very careful to double check that those zircon didn't experience post crystallization, impact damages, or anything. So they were pristine. And we found out that the moon is actually older. The moon didn't form at 4.3 billion years old, but it formed at, minimum and that is a minimum age it could even be slightly older, it formed at minimum 4.51 billion years old." Scientists theorize the moon was created after a large body collided with primordial Earth. So these new findings reinforce another study done at UCLA which determined that life appeared on Earth as early as 4.1 billion years ago. SOUNDBITE (English): Melanie Barboni, UCLA researcher, saying: "So now if you believe the giant impact occurred at 4.3, it doesn't leave you a long time between the impact and basically the earth being half destroyed and then the earth acquiring all the conditions you need for life," said Barboni. "Now if you put your moon at 4.51, you have much more time to cool down your earth to start having your plate tectonics things again, generate the atmosphere, generate the water and then finally having all the conditions met for life." The new date means the moon formed roughly 60 million years after the birth of the solar system - a key factor for scientists analyzing how planets form.