Feeds

Come off it, Moon, Earth. We KNOW you're 60 million years OLDER than we thought

'Might seem a small difference, but it is important,' say boffins

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

Geoboffins have cracked open some ancient crystals to discover that the Earth and the Moon are actually 60 million years older than previously thought.

Giant impact, common at the end of planet formation

You’d imagine that figuring out the age of the hunk of rock right under our feet would be something that scientists had done pretty conclusively by now, but it’s a lot harder than you think. Boffins say that because so little of the rock formations and other classic geological features from way back in deep time is still around today, it’s tough to narrow down just how old our planet is.

Scientists instead use the proportion of different gas isotopes that have survived from early on in our world’s history to try to figure out just when our Earth’s ancestor and another planet smashed into each other, creating modern-day Earth and its smallish satellite.

Two geochemists from the University of Lorraine in France now reckon that collision occurred around 40 million years after the Solar System first started to come together, rather than the previous figure of a hundred million years after the system’s formation.

Guillaume Avice and Bernard Marty peeked inside ancient samples of South African and Australian quartz, dated to 3.4 billion and 2.7 billion years ago respectively, and found xenon gas. The quartz acted like a time capsule, preserving the gas and allowing the researchers to compare modern isotopic ratios of xenon to the stuff that was around billions of years ago.

"The composition of the gases we are looking at changes according the conditions they are found in, which of course depend on the major events in Earth's history,” Avice explained.

“The gas sealed in these quartz samples has been handed down to us in a sort of ‘time capsule’. We are using standard methods to compute the age of the Earth, but having access to these ancient samples gives us new data, and allows us to refine the measurement.”

The maths then shows that the Moon-forming impact occurred around 60 million years earlier than scientists had previously thought, after which the Earth started to develop its atmosphere.

"This might seem a small difference, but it is important. These differences set time boundaries on how the planets evolved, especially through the major collisions in deep time which shaped the solar system,” Marty added.

The scientists presented their work to the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Sacramento, California. ®

HP ProLiant Gen8: Integrated lifecycle automation

More from The Register

next story
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
MARS NEEDS OCEANS to support life - and so do exoplanets
Just being in the Goldilocks zone doesn't mean there'll be anyone to eat the porridge
Diary note: Pluto's close-up is a year from … now!
New Horizons is less than a year from the dwarf planet
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Mobile application security vulnerability report
The alarming realities regarding the sheer number of applications vulnerable to attack, and the most common and easily addressable vulnerability errors.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.