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Zircon crystal declared oldest known fragment found on Earth

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
2/25/2014 (2 years ago)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

At 4.4 BILLION years of age, fragment gives clue to what ancient Earth was like

A beautiful blue fragment of crystal has been declared by researchers as the oldest surviving piece of mineral evidence currently known on Earth. At a staggering 4.4 billion years of age, scientists are now examining the shard to find out what ancient earth was like.

The zircon study has helped portray how the Earth's crust formed during the first geologic eon of the planet. The fragment could also help shed light on how other habitable planets would form.

The zircon study has helped portray how the Earth's crust formed during the first geologic eon of the planet. The fragment could also help shed light on how other habitable planets would form.

Highlights

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)
2/25/2014 (2 years ago)

Published in Technology

Keywords: Zircon, mineral, prehistory, formation, planet Earth


LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic online) - Extracted from a rock on a sheep ranch in Western Australia, the crystal is helping scientists discover how Earth became able to support life.

So far, the study on the microscopic fragment strengthens the theory of "a cool early Earth" where temperatures were low enough for liquid water. It implies that oceans and other bodies of water came a lot sooner than previously thought, after the planet's crust congealed from a sea of molten rock.

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The zircon study has helped portray how the Earth's crust formed during the first geologic eon of the planet. The fragment could also help shed light on how other habitable planets would form.

Geoscientists have confirmed that the Earth's crust formed at least 4.4 billion years ago, just 160 million years after the formation of our solar system.

The crystal "confirms our view of how the Earth cooled and became habitable," geologist John Valley at the University of Wisconsin-Madison says. The evidence has brought a conclusion that the Earth was not as harsh a place as scientists previously thought.

Scientists have previously found zircon fragments in sandstone rock, but have not revealed the exact type of rock where they found the "new" sample.

Valley thinks that the study of the zircon crystal has helped depict how the Earth's crust formed during the first geologic eon of the planet.

"This may also help us understand how other habitable planets would form," he added.

A few grains of zircon discovered in sandstone rock in Western Australia in the 1990s dated back between 4.2 billion and 4.3 billion years. This renders the - ahem, "new" as being at least 100,000 years older.

A team of international scientists led by Valley used lead isotopes to date the Australian zircons and identify them as the oldest bits of the Earth's crust, as well as the oldest known material of any kind formed on Earth.

"The study reinforces our conclusion that Earth had a hydrosphere before 4.3 billion years ago," and possibly life not long after, he said.

Using a new technique called atom-probe tomography; scientists also used a tried-and-tested ion mass spectrometry, which allowed the scientists to accurately establish the age and thermal history of the zircon by determining the mass of individual atoms of lead in the sample.

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