Age of Earth's crust formation confirmed

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  • Published: Feb 24, 2014
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Atomic / Base Peak
thumbnail image: Age of Earth's crust formation confirmed

A tiny grain of zircon recovered from sandstone at Jack Hills, Western Australia is the oldest known material on Earth and proves that the Earth's crust was formed at least 4.4 billion years ago. This is the conclusion of researchers who used uranium-lead isotope dating to gain this view of the early planet, reporting in Nature Geoscience.

There has been some controversy in the past regarding this dating system, due to the potential movement of radioisotopes around the grain, which has lead to uncertainties about the accuracy of earlier age measurements of Jack Hills zircons. This new study bypassed the problems by using high-resolution atom-probe tomography and secondary ion mass spectrometry which confirmed that lead radioisotopes do move around the crystal but only over very small distances which do not affect the results.

So, the zircon was found to be 4.374 ± 0.006 billion years old, marking the beginning of the formation of the Earth's crust after the massive impact of early Earth with an object the size of Mars. That collision homogenised the Earth's crust and formed our Moon as a by-product.

Image: courtesy John W. Valley

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