Moon discovery: Ancient 4-billion-year-old relic found on lunar surface

29 January, 2019, 08:57 | Author: Sherry Houston
  • Earthrise from Moon

Earth's oldest known rock may have been found, in the last place anyone would have thought to look for it: in samples of rock from the Moon, brought back home to Earth by Apollo 14 astronauts in 1971. They could tell how deep it was based on a molecular analysis of the rock, which can tell the researchers what temperature the rock was at when it formed.

Scientist say a tiny piece of a moon rock most likely formed on Earth.

The rock contains the minerals quartz, zircon, and feldspar - all minerals commonly found on Earth, but not on the moon. So, it is possible that in the early years of our Solar System when large asteroids were everywhere, that one of them hit the Earth and sent debris flying into space, and one of these rocks landed on our satellite's surface.

The Moon was much closer to the Earth than it is today when the rock fragment was produced and ejected from the Earth.

And researchers now believe asteroids are slamming into Earth at nearly three times the rate as when dinosaurs roamed the world.

This rock, along with other lunar samples, was lying at the Lunar Curation Facility at the Johnson Space Center in the United States. It most likely made its way to the lunar surface, they concluded, when a massive impact event on our planet hurled the rock into space, and onto the moon, which was about three times closer to Earth at the time.

But is it any less of a coincidence that an Earth rock could have ended up on the moon?

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Perhaps the impact created a huge cloud of debris that mixed thoroughly with the Earth and then later condensed to form the moon.

Scientists might have found what may be Earth's oldest rock.

The researchers inferred that a large comet or asteroid hit the Earth and launched the rock from earth into space, where it collided with the surface of the moon about 4 billion years ago. The apparent terrestrial fragment found within Big Bertha formed around 20km below the Earth's surface - a depth not out of reach for these ancient asteroids. To explain its presence on the lunar surface, she said the breccia was once buried, but it returned to the surface following an impact that formed Cone Crater, a 300m crater near the Apollo 14 landing site - a "very common process on the Moon", she added. At an estimated four billion to 4.1 billion years old, the terrestrial zircon mineral found in the sample is now among the oldest known to exist. "There are zircons on Earth of 4.4 to 4.3 billion years old which come from western Australia".

There, Apollo 14 crew member Alan Shepard collected the rock, designated it as 14321 and brought it back to Earth.

And, scientists may now have discovered one of those rocks. After that period, the Moon was affected by smaller and less frequent impact events.

That would, however, require the sample to have formed at tremendous depths, in the lunar mantle, where very different rock compositions are anticipated and in the reducing and higher temperature conditions characteristic of the Moon.

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