Scientists in France had a smashing time shattering ancient quartz crystals in an attempt to determine the true age of the moon.
Evidence suggests that the moon was formed after the Earth was hit by an object the size of Mars back in the solar system's earliest days. Dust from that object, named Theia, and the Earth then flew out into space and formed the moon. Researchers recently looked inside of 2.7 billion to 3.4 billion-year-old crystals, which trapped bits of the Earth's atmosphere, to determine the age of our post-impact atmosphere, the Los Angeles Times reports. That in turn allowed the scientists to ascertain the real age of the moon.
Not every crystal worked, explained Guillaume Avice, a geochemist at the University of Lorraine in Nancy, France. Those that did let the researchers measure the isotopic ratio of xenon in the atmosphere billions of years ago, and compare it to today's atmosphere. This new information allowed scientists to build more accurate models of our own atmosphere, and now that "we corrected the model, we can compute new ages for the atmosphere and the moon, and that age becomes 40 million years after the solar system formation," Avice said. If the French researchers are right, the moon and atmosphere are roughly 60 million years older than previously thought.