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Earth and Moon may be 60 million years older than previously thought

Cheryl Santa Maria
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, June 10, 2014, 6:26 PM - A Tuesday presentation at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Sacramento, California suggests that the Earth and the Moon are much older than previously thought.

The new research argues that the timing of the impact between Earth's ancestor and the planet-sized body that created our earth and moon occurred about 40 million years after the solar system began to form.

If that's the case, it would mean that the final stage of Earth's formation is 60 million years older than previously thought, according to scientists. 

Geochemists from France measured xenon gas found in South African and Australian quartz dating back to 3.4 and 2.7 billion years respectively. Researchers say the ancient quartz provides a glimpse into the isotropic ratios of xenon that existed billions of years ago.

Prior to the discovery, scientists believed the Earth's atmosphere formed approximately 100 million years after the solar system developed.

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"It is not possible to give an exact date for the formation of the Earth. What this work does is to show that the Earth is older than we thought, by around 60 [million years]," geochemist Guillaume Avice says in a statement.

"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. 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."

Collaborator Bernard Marty adds that while 60 million years may seem like a "small difference," the findings are 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 says.

Thumbnail image courtesy of NASA

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