A recent study of Apollo 14 samples suggests that the moon is approximately 4.51 billion years old, formed 60 million years after the birth of the solar system. This means that the Earth's satellite is older than previous estimates, said researchers from the University of California in Los Angeles.
Determining The Age Of The Moon
"We are really sure that this age is very, very robust," lead author Melanie Barboni, a researcher at the UCLA's Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences Department, said in an interview with Space.com.
To come up with the findings, the researchers studied rock fragments from a total of eight samples collected by NASA's Apollo 14 mission in 1971. The zircon fragments were analyzed using uranium-lead dating, which allowed researchers to determine the moon's formation date.
"If you want to date this process, we use the mineral zircon, because that's the best time capsule you can find," Barboni said.
The details of study were published in Science Advances on Wednesday, Jan. 11.
Moon Rock Fragments
Dust from the fragments helped scientists in determining the actual age of the moon. Moon dust is present on the lunar regolith or the surface of the moon, and it possesses its own notable characteristics. Some dust particles seem to "levitate" because of static energy that causes the dust to travel across the moon's surface.
Scientists also considered cosmic ray exposures and differentiation of the lunar crust to determine the exact formation year of the Earth's satellite. The result is way earlier compared to previous estimates of the moon's age, which range from 100 million to 200 million years after the solar system was created.
Apollo 14 Mission
Apollo 14 was launched to collect surface materials from the Fra Mauro region near the area where the Apollo Lunar Surface Scientific Experiments Package instrument landed. After more than 45 years, the lunar rocks collected by the mission are still providing significant scientific data to researchers today, allowing scientists to determine the exact age of the moon.
The scientists also noted the controversy surrounding the study determining the age and formation of the moon. This is due to varied theories presented by different scientific bodies. One theory states that the moon formed from "moonlets" created by Earth's collisions with asteroids.
Even the moon's tilted orbit puzzled scientists, but it is now explained. According to research published in November 2016, a collision between the young Earth and Theia, a space rock the size of Mars, created debris that led to the formation of the moon. The impact that formed the moon also caused it to tilt.