The Moon, as it turns out, may be older than scientists thought. Their new estimate for the moon’s age is 4.51 billion years. The estimate is based on the rocks and soil collected by the Apollo 14 moonwalkers in 1971.

Supermoon Moon
Image Credit: Civsix / Flickr

Based on Apollo 14 lunar samples

On Wednesday, a research team stated that the moon was formed within 60 million years of the birth of the solar system. In the past, estimates ranged within 100 million years to almost 200 million years after the creation of the solar system, or about 4.3 billion or 4.4 billion years old.

Melanie Barboni, lead author from the University of California, Los Angeles, and her colleagues, whose work appeared this Wednesday in the Science Advances journal, are eager to learn more about the history of the moon and, in turn, the evolution of the entire solar system and the early Earth, notes abcNEWS. Scientists conducted uranium-lead dating on fragments of the mineral zircon extracted from the Apollo 14 lunar samples. The pieces of zircon were very small – around the same size as a grain of sand.

In an email to abcNEWS, Barboni said, “Size doesn’t matter, they record amazing information nonetheless!” adding that the moon holds “so much magic … the key to understand how our beautiful Earth formed and evolved.”

Will this settle the debate about the moon’s age?

Richard Carlson, director for the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science, said the result may not be sufficient to completely settle the debate on the moon’s age. Carlson told The Verge that Barboni and her team are addressing a very complicated problem here, “which is why we still don’t have a clear answer to such an obvious question as the age of the Moon.”

Barboni said she is studying more zircons from the Apollo 14 samples, adding that she doesn’t expect those samples to change her estimate of 4.51 billion years by much (at the most, the estimate could stretch to 4.52 billion years old). She explained that it would be more of a double-check than anything else.

While exploring the moon’s Fra Mauro highlands in February 1971, Edgar Mitchell and Alan Shepard from Apollo 14 collected about 92 pounds of rocks and used tubes to dig up soil. They conducted two spacewalks, spending nine hours on the lunar surface.

The moon is thought to have been created from the leftover debris of a high-speed collision between a smaller planet-like object called Theia and Earth. Our planet would have been completely wiped out after the giant collision with no life on the planet. So knowing the moon’s age would give us a good idea of when our planet started becoming a suitable place to live in.