The timeless narrative of the ‘Man in the Moon,’ a tale cherished by children across the globe, has taken an intriguing turn.
An international team of researchers from Norway and France has revealed a scientific breakthrough. They have declared that the Moon’s features, which give birth to this age-old tale, are far older than we initially believed.
More than 200 million years older, to be precise.
Determined to reconcile two conflicting systems used for dating the lunar surface, these intrepid scientists discovered a method to align and recalibrate these contradictory systems.
The result? The Moon’s crust, or at least significant portions of it, is significantly older than previously estimated.
This monumental finding also provides these scientists with the ability to clarify the sequence of lunar surface evolution.
As we know, the Moon today is rather geologically tranquil. There are currently no significant tectonic or volcanic activities, which is why the “Man in the Moon” features will never change.
This stability has preserved the scars left by a history of brutal asteroid and comet bombardments. On Earth, similar bombardments have taken place. However, due to our planet’s dynamic geological activities, these signs of impacts have largely been masked.
At the prestigious Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Lyon, Professor Stephanie Werner from the Centre for Planetary Habitability at the University of Oslo elaborated.
She says, “Looking at the signs of these impacts on the Moon shows what Earth would be like without the geological churning of plate tectonics which took place here on Earth. What we have done is to show that large portions of the lunar crust are around 200 million years older than had been thought.”
Traditionally, the Moon’s surface’s age was measured using a process called crater counting. However, this method often presented differing results when compared to analyses of rocks brought back from the Apollo missions. This rings particularly true for the Moon’s lighter regions, known as the Highlands.
So, the scientists made a decision. “We decided that we had to reconcile these differences,” Professor Werner continued.
“This meant correlating individually dated Apollo samples to the number of craters in the sample site surrounding area – in effect, resetting the crater clock. We also correlated them against spectroscopy data from various Moon missions, especially the Indian Chandrayaan-1, to be sure which Apollo sample ‘belongs’ to the surface in which we counted craters.”
After almost a decade of laborious work since the project’s inception in 2014, the team could finally resolve the discrepancy. This resulted in pushing back the Moon’s surface age by an astounding 200 million years.
As a practical application of this new dating method, consider the Imbrium Basin. This area holds the ‘lunar sea’ known as Mare Imbrium. It is always visible in the Moon’s top left.
Mare Imbrium was likely formed by an asteroid impactor roughly the size of Sicily. Under the new dating method, the age of this basin shifts from 3.9 billion years ago to 4.1 billion years ago.
The researchers, however, clarify that this revelation doesn’t alter our current estimates of the Moon’s age. Instead, it just gives us a revised understanding of its surface’s age.
Furthermore, this novel dating method doesn’t change all lunar surface areas uniformly. The oldest surfaces exhibit the most significant changes.
In essence, the Moon has held on to its historical wrinkles. It continues to tell tales of an even more ancient past than we thought. So, the next time you gaze up at the ‘Man in the Moon,’ remember that his story is a couple of hundred million years older than we once believed.
Professor Werner said “This is an important difference. It allows is to push back in time an intense period of bombardment from space, which we now know took place before extensive volcanic activity that formed the “Man in the Moon” patterns – the mare volcanic plains including Mare Imbrium. As this happened on the Moon, the Earth was almost certain to have also suffered this earlier bombardment too”.
Prof. Audrey Bouvier (University of Bayreuth, Germany) commented “The Moon provides unique records of the early bombardment history. We have had three successful lunar sample return programs (Apollo, Luna, and Chang’e) which have associated rocks with their sampling locations on the Moon. By combining the latest spacecraft observations with impact events recorded by lunar rocks, Prof. Werner and her colleagues have greatly pushed back the records of heavy bombardment onto the terrestrial planets.”
Bouvier continues, “Such a heavy bombardment period must have affected the origin and early evolution of life on Earth and potentially other planets such as Mars. Bringing back rock samples from Jezero Crater on Mars will be the next giant leap forward to search for signs of ancient life on another planet in the Solar System, and when”.
The Moon is Earth’s only natural satellite and our closest celestial neighbor. It is the fifth-largest moon in our solar system and the largest in relation to the size of its planet.
The Moon orbits Earth at an average distance of approximately 238,855 miles (384,400 kilometers). Its gravitational influence is responsible for Earth’s tides. The lunar phases, which change as it orbits Earth, provide the basis for the lunar calendar.
Scientists believe that the Moon formed about 4.5 billion years ago, soon after the formation of the solar system.
The most widely accepted theory of the Moon’s origin is called the Giant Impact Hypothesis. It suggests that a Mars-sized body named Theia collided with the early Earth. The resulting debris eventually coalesced into the Moon.
The Moon’s surface, scarred by billions of years of meteor and comet impacts, is covered with craters. Its terrain includes large flat areas known as “maria,” highlands, and valleys. It lacks a substantial atmosphere. This results in extreme temperature variations, from very hot during lunar day to freezing at night. Due to the lack of atmosphere, the lunar sky always appears black, even during the day.
The Moon is tidally locked with Earth, which means the same side, the “near side,” always faces Earth. The other side, called the “far side” or often misnamed the “dark side,” remains hidden from direct view. However, both sides receive equal amounts of sunlight.
Human fascination with the Moon has existed for millennia. It has been a central part of various mythologies and has been used as a timekeeper.
In the modern era, the Moon became the target of exploration during the Space Race in the 20th century, culminating in the Apollo missions. Apollo 11, in particular, made history when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the lunar surface on July 20, 1969.
Although the Moon is not geologically active, recent discoveries suggest that there might be water ice in permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles. This discovery has important implications for future lunar exploration and the possibility of establishing a human presence on the Moon.
Today, the Moon continues to be a focus for scientific research. Numerous missions from various countries and private companies are underway or being planned. These include human missions, robotic exploration, and eventually, potential lunar bases for scientific research and a stepping-stone for further space exploration.