Published: Sun, January 27, 2019
Science | By Michele Flores

Scientists discovered Earth's oldest rock on Moon

Scientists discovered Earth's oldest rock on Moon

The lunar sample was brought back to Earth for further analysis after astronauts collected it during the third mission to the moon. These materials are commonly found on Earth, but are very uncommon on the Moon.

Apollo 14 astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr. on the Lunar surface.

They found lunar sample 14321, also known as Big Bertha, is embedded with a rock fragment made of quartz, feldspar, and zircon.

The evidence gathered by the team shows that this fragment formed 4.1 - 4 billion years ago at nearly 20 km under Earth's surface.

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. Once the sample reached the lunar surface, it was affected by several other impact events, one of which partially melted it 3.9 billion years ago, and which probably buried it beneath the surface.

The research team - led by Jeremy Bellucci, of the Swedish Museum of Natural History, and Alexander Nemchin, of the Swedish Museum and Curtin University in Australia - analyzed lunar samples collected by members of the Apollo 14 mission, which explored the lunar surface for a few days in early February 1971.

This theory is the easiest explanation since the formation of such a fragment would need an oxidizing environment.

It is conceivable that the example isn't of the terrestrial source, yet rather crystallized on the Moon, nonetheless, that would require conditions at no other time gathered from lunar examples.

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

"What we did was use the composition of minerals in the fragment to show it formed under conditions that only occur on Earth", Robinson told Gizmodo. The researchers believe that more than one asteroid impacts lifted the rock from Earth's interior to the planet's surface.

Who would have thought that the oldest rock on Earth could be brought from the moon? Their findings, published today in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, are based on careful analysis of the 1.8 gram specimen's mineral composition.

"For that reason it provides a neat achieve of impacts, as it is unlike the Earth, which is affected by erosion and plate tectonics that disturb impact craters".

If we ever go back to the moon again, we might find more Earth samples lying around the surface. It was then excavated by one or more large impact events and launched into lunar space.

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]. Researchers believe that the rock fragment may have originated on the Earth.

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.

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