4.33-billion-year-old crystal linked to an ancient collision on the Moon

New analysis of Apollo 17 sample reveals clues to the Moon's violent history.

View of Super Blood Wolf Moon

Photo by Rich Polk/Getty Images
  • Researchers make new discovery in an Apollo 17 rock from 1972.
  • The 4.33-billion-year-old sample reveals clues to the Moon's violent history.
  • The Moon was likely bombarded by giant meteorites in its early days.

Our Moon likely had a very violent past, reveals new research. A group of international scientists discovered that the ancient rocks of the Moon were likely formed as a result of impacts from giant meteorites.

The scientists, led by researchers of the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM), analyzed a rock brought from the Moon by NASA astronauts of the 1972 Apollo 17 mission. The found it was created at the scorching temperatures of over 2300 °C/ 4300 °F. You get this much heat when the outer layer of a planet undergoes a major hit.

Further clues of the rock's origins in meteorite bombardment were revealed by the traces of cubic zirconia, a diamond-substitute that forms at temperatures above 2300 °C. The crystal eventually changed to the more stable mineral baddeleyite around 4.3 billion years ago, but it still betrays its initial structure.

Moon mission 2.0: What humanity will learn by going back

Dr. Lee White, Postdoctoral Fellow at the ROM, explained that the Moon's rocks can be invaluable in figuring out the history of our planet.

"Rocks on Earth are constantly being recycled, but the Moon doesn't exhibit plate tectonics or volcanism, allowing older rocks to be preserved," shared Dr. White. "By studying the Moon, we can better understand the earliest history of our planet. If large, super-heated impacts were creating rocks on the Moon, the same process was probably happening here on Earth".

Apollo 17 commander Eugene A. Cernan stands by the American flag during his second space walk. He was the last man to walk on the Moon on December 12, 1972.

Photo by NASA/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images.

The study's co-author Dr. James Darling from the University of Portsmouth stated that the new analysis of the samples upends the view of the Moon's geology. "These unimaginably violent meteorite impacts helped to build the lunar crust, not only destroy it," he added.

Check out the study in Nature Astronomy.

American education: It’s colleges, not college students, that are failing

Who is to blame for the U.S.'s dismal college graduation rate? "Radical" educator Dennis Littky has a hunch.

Percentage of college student dropouts by age at enrollment: 2-year and 4-year institutions

Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • COVID-19 has magnified the challenges that underserved communities face with regard to higher education, such as widening social inequality and sky-high tuition.
  • At College Unbound, where I am president, we get to know students individually to understand what motivates them, so they can build a curriculum based on goals they want to achieve.
  • My teaching mantra: Everything is permitted during COVID-19. Everything is permitted during COVID-19. Everything is permitted during COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle may finally be solved

Meteorologists propose a stunning new explanation for the mysterious events in the Bermuda Triangle.

Surprising Science

One of life's great mysteries, the Bermuda Triangle might have finally found an explanation. This strange region, that lies in the North Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico, has been the presumed cause of dozens and dozens of mind-boggling disappearances of ships and planes.

Keep reading Show less

LIVE AT 2 PM ET | Lead your team toward collaborative problem solving

What does it mean to "lead without authority"?

Big Think LIVE

Add event to calendar

Keep reading Show less

Planet Nine will be discovered in the next decade. Here’s why.

The planet that we are searching for is a little bit smaller and closer than we originally thought.

Planet Nine will be discovered in the next decade. Here’s why. | ...
  • Years ago, California Institute of Technology professor Konstantin Batygin was inspired to embark on a journey of discovering what lurked beyond Neptune. What he and his collaborator discovered was a strange field of debris.
  • This field of debris exhibited a clustering of orbits, and something was keeping these orbits confined. The only plausible source would be the gravitational pull of an extra planet—Planet Nine.
  • While Planet Nine hasn't been found directly, the pieces of the puzzle are coming together. And Batygin is confident we'll return to a nine-planet solar system within the next decade.
Keep reading Show less
Scroll down to load more…