Science

Earth's oldest discovered... on the Moon

Earth's oldest discovered... on the Moon”

The rock crystallised about 20 kilometers beneath Earth's surface 4.0 to 4.1 billion years ago.

After digging through lunar samples brought back by astronauts, scientists were surprised to find what could be Earth's oldest rock.

An worldwide team of scientists associated with the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration (CLSE), part of NASA's Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute, found evidence that the rock was launched from Earth by a large impacting asteroid or comet. According to one widely accepted theory, the moon - and possibly the elemental foundations that make life possible on Earth - was formed when a large planet collided with ours, sending fragments and planet bits soaring into space.

The oldest intact Earth rock might have been found by scientists on the moon. That rock is the oldest known rock to originate from the Earth, dating back to approximately four billion years.

It's possible that the fragment did indeed form on the Moon, but the conditions for that would be unlike anything we've seen on the satellite.

The Earth is believed to have been formed in the early Solar System almost 4.5 billion years ago.

However, the moon developed its own distinct geological characteristics, making its rocks easily distinguishable from those formed on Earth.

"It's quite a violent process and chemistry changes as a result of that".

The discovery, then, raises the question of how an Earth rock got to the moon in the first place.

There is a chance that the sample didn't come from Earth and that it actually crystallised on the moon; however, this would require it to have formed at tremendous depths in the lunar mantle where very different rock compositions are anticipated.

This a sharp upturn from the number of asteroids hitting the planet when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. These materials are very rare on the moon, and looking at the chemical analysis, this tiny fragment was crystallized in an environment similar to the one on early Earth's subsurface.

The impact of the collision threw the material through Earth's primitive atmosphere, into space, where it landed on the Moon's surface which was three times closer to the Earth than it is now. It would also be highly unusual for a lunar sample, the researchers said. At the time, Earth would have been experiencing asteroid impacts capable of creating craters that were hundreds of miles wide. The researchers believe that one or more impact events to the planet's surface revealed the rock before it was launched.

New research published this week in Earth and Planetary Science Letters is claiming that a rock fragment embedded within lunar sample 14321 - a 900g rock known as Big Bertha - is of terrestrial origin. "While the Hadean Earth is a reasonable source for the sample, the first find of this kind may be a challenge for the geologic community to digest".

Reference: "Terrestrial-like Zircon in a Clast from an Apollo 14 Breccia", J. J. Bellucci et al., 2019 January 24, Earth and Planetary Science Letters [https://doi.org/10.1016/j.epsl.2019.01.010, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0012821X19300202].

The center is part of NASA's Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute.



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