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Scientists Found Earth’s Oldest Rock on Moon

The final impact event to affect this sample occurred about 26 million years ago, when an impacting asteroid hit the Moon

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Analysis of lunar samples from the Apollo 14 mission shows that a large impacting asteroid or comet hurtled a piece of Earth rock, about 4 billion years ago, on to the Moon’s surface.

An international team of scientists led by NASA’s Center for Lunar Science and Exploration (CLSE), found evidence that the impact jettisoned material through Earth’s primitive atmosphere, into space, where it collided with the surface of the Moon (which was three times closer to Earth than it is now) about 4 billion years ago.

The rock was subsequently mixed with other lunar surface materials into one sample.

The 2 gram fragment of rock was composed of quartz, feldspar, and zircon — all commonly found on Earth and highly unusual on the Moon.

Earth depletion
Earth depletion, Pixabay

“It is an extraordinary find that helps paint a better picture of early Earth and the bombardment that modified our planet during the dawn of life,” said David A. Kring, Principal Investigator at CLSE.

It is possible that the sample is not of terrestrial origin, but instead crystallised on the Moon.

That would, however, require the sample to have formed at tremendous depths, in the lunar mantle, where very different rock compositions are anticipated and in the reducing and higher temperature conditions characteristic of the Moon.

But chemical analysis of the rock fragment shows it crystallised in a terrestrial-like oxidised system, at terrestrial temperatures, according to research published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters.

rocks
Earth’s oldest known evolved rocks result of asteroids. Pixabay

Further, the researchers revealed that the rock crystallised about 20 kilometres beneath the Earth’s surface 4-4.1 billion years ago. It was then excavated by one or more large impact events and launched into cislunar space.

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.

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The sample is therefore a relic of an intense period of bombardment that shaped the solar system during the first billion years. After that period, the Moon was affected by smaller and less frequent impact events.

The final impact event to affect this sample occurred about 26 million years ago, when an impacting asteroid hit the Moon, producing the small 340 meter-diameter Cone Crater, and excavating the sample back onto the lunar surface where astronauts collected it almost exactly 48 years ago (January 31-February 6, 1971), Kring explained. (IANS)

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NASA’s Future Scientists Would Likely Be Better Equipped To Study The Lunar Material

"By studying these precious lunar samples for the first time, a new generation of scientists will help advance our understanding of our lunar neighbor and prepare for the next era of exploration of the moon and beyond."

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NASA
Astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt collects lunar rake samples during the Apollo 17 mission, Dec. 13, 1972. VOA

NASA is once again turning its focus to the moon.

Nearly 50 years after the last lunar mission, the U.S. space agency is unsealing some of the samples brought back by Apollo astronauts for study.

The lunar samples were collected by astronauts during the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions.

Some of the samples have never been opened, others were resealed in an effort to preserve them.

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“This exploration will bring with it new and unique samples into the best labs right here on Earth.” Pixabay

NASA has picked nine teams of scientists to study the samples. The teams were selected from scientists at the NASA Ames Research Center, the Bay Area Environmental Research Institute, NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center, the University of Arizona, the University of California, Berkeley, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the University of New Mexico, Mount Holyoke College and the Planetary Science Institute.

NASA
The lunar samples were collected by astronauts during the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions. Pixabay

“By studying these precious lunar samples for the first time, a new generation of scientists will help advance our understanding of our lunar neighbor and prepare for the next era of exploration of the moon and beyond,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “This exploration will bring with it new and unique samples into the best labs right here on Earth.”

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NASA said its officials in the 1970s had the foresight to know that future scientists would likely be better equipped to study the lunar material. (VOA)