The moon is much older than it previously let on

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Jan 18, 2017, 1:52 PM EST (Updated)

If the moon had a birthday cake, it would be blazing with billions of candles. Now scientists believe there should be even more candles on that cake —up to 140 million of them.

Moon dust must be a really effective concealer. While the moon has never lied about its age, its secret was literally skin deep. Researchers at UCLA have analyzed minerals found in moon rocks brought back to Earth from the 1971 Apollo 14 mission and determined that it could be anywhere from 40 to 140 million years older than previously assumed.

That would only make the moon 60 million years younger than our solar system, the nebulous origins of which are obscured by evolution theories that keep evolving from evidence like this.

Luna emerged from a violent birth. Embryonic planet Theia struck our planet in a head-on collision that demolished Theia and merged it with Earth. The intense impact broke off a piece of that planetary mass, which became the moon. Chemical analysis of both volcanic rocks and moon rocks revealed that both our planet and its satellite have the exact same ratio of oxygen isotopes. Now that we know where the moon’s DNA comes from, geochemistry and cosmochemistry have been able to reveal how astonishingly old the moon is from the presence of other elements.

Zircons like the one in the center, which has minimal fractures caused by other collisions, are rare.

While moon rocks are notoriously difficult to assign an age because most of them are a mineral mashup, research geochemist and study lead Mélanie Barboni of the UCLA Department of Earth, Planetary and Space Sciences found eight untainted zircons that defied these expectations. Zircon is an element known for its ability to essentially freeze time by preserving chemical fingerprints that hold the secrets of their inception. When Earth and Theia collided, the liquefied moon that arose from this encounter was covered in magma ooze. Lutetium and halfnium levels tell scientists exactly when the magma formed while lead and uranium measurements expose when zircons first materialized in this bubbling sea of fire.  

Zircons were what confirmed through their chemical makeup (not the anti-aging kind) that the years when the moon was still a seething ocean of magma do count towards its overall age ... even if it has looked the same since time immemorial. This discredits previous studies that were based solely on moon rocks contaminated from other collisions. UCLA professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry Edward Young, who co-authored the study with Barboni and colleagues, stated that "Mélanie was very clever in figuring out the moon's real age dates back to its pre-history before it solidified, not to its solidification." The team from UCLA continues to study Apollo-era moon rocks to illuminate its infancy.

Scientists may not be able to find out what happened before the Earth-Theia collision, which erased everything in its wake, but these findings are helping them piece together our solar system’s past. When you're the moon, groundbreaking discoveries can result from revealing your real age.

(via UCLA Newsroom)