Moon is much older than we thought, scientists find

Learning about the moon’s history could tell us about the early Earth and our solar system

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 12 January 2017 15:23 GMT
The scientists have been studying rocks brought back by Apollo 14 astronauts in 1971
The scientists have been studying rocks brought back by Apollo 14 astronauts in 1971 (Getty)

The moon is much older than we thought, scientists have found.

Our closest neighbour is 4.51 billion years old, scientists have established.

The new estimate comes from rocks brought back by Apollo 14 scientists in 1971. And it means that we were as much as 150 million years out in our guess of how old it was.

The moon was formed within just 60 million years of the birth of the solar system, according to the new research. Previously, scientists had thought that it came about around 100 million to 200 million years after our solar system did.

The study was done by uranium-lead dating on small fragments of the mineral zircon that were taken from the samples. Those pieces of zircon were no bigger than a grain of sand, but they record their own history.

Apollo 11's Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell collected 92 pounds of rocks and used tubes to dig up soil while exploring the moon's Fra Mauro highlands in February 1971. They conducted two spacewalks, spending nine hours altogether out on the lunar surface.

The research could help us learn more about not only the moon, but also our solar system and even our own Earth, according to the lead author Melanie Barboni, of UCLA.

Ms Barboni said she is studying more zircons from Apollo 14 samples, but does not expect the findings to change her estimate of 4.51 billion years for the moon's age – possibly extending it to 4.52 billion years at the most.

"It would be more a double-checking than anything else," she said of the research.

This week, scientists also proposed a new theory of where the moon actually came from. It’s actually made up of a lot of tiny rocks that mushed together to form the satellite that we know today, scientists proposed.

It’s the age at which the moon became the solid mass we know today that Ms Barnobi and her team have worked out. "We finally pinned down a minimum age for the moon formation," she said, "regardless of how it formed."

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