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Lunar rock analysis reveals moon is older than we thought

NASA / Kim Shiflett

The moon has long been a focal point for space research and exploration, yet our understanding of its origins remains incomplete. A recent discovery indicates that the moon is approximately 40 million years older than previously estimated.

In a study published by the European Association of Geochemistry, scientists examined the age of crystal formations found in moon rock samples to determine its age. These samples, collected during NASA’s Apollo program, contain a significant quantity of crystals known as zircon. The presence of these zircon crystals suggests that the moon’s surface was formed roughly 110 million years after the creation of the solar system. Researchers employed various analytical techniques, including mass spectrometry to measure specific molecules in the rock. Additionally, they used atom-probe tomography to assess the degree of radioactive decay in the samples, which, in turn, helped determine the age of the crystals in the rock.

NASA’s prevailing theory suggests that a Mars-sized object collided with Earth billions of years ago, leading to the formation of the moon. This revised understanding of the moon’s age offers scientists a rough estimate of when this significant collision might have occurred. It underscores the importance of exploratory missions like Apollo 17, the mission at the core of this discovery. In 1972, this manned mission aimed to conduct geological surveys on the moon’s surface, resulting in the retrieval of 243 pounds of lunar material. Remarkably, this material has only recently been examined by researchers, 51 years later.

NASA has launched over 105 robotic spacecraft to explore the moon, presenting endless opportunities for further discoveries. While the next NASA-led manned mission to the moon is not expected until at least 2025, rover programs are anticipated to provide additional insights into the composition of the moon’s surface.

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