Curtin University researchers have helped to refine our understanding of the solar system’s timeline, dating the youngest Moon rocks ever discovered.
The collection was part of China’s Chang’e-5 Moon landing in December 2020 and was the first time in 45 years anyone had collected Moon rocks.
Lead Australian author Alexander Nemchin said the two-billion-year-old rocks were aged using large mass spectrometers.
“Previously, the youngest lunar basalt rocks collected as part of the Apollo and Luna missions, as well as lunar meteorites, were found to be older than about three billion years,” Nemchin said.
“After analysing the chemistry of the new Moon rocks collected as part of China’s recent mission, we determined the new samples were about two billion years old, making them the youngest volcanic rocks identified on the Moon so far.”
Nemchin was proud to be a part of the major program and said it would help to continue strong astronomical ties with China.
“This discovery puts Australia at the heart of efforts to internationalise scientific collaboration around China’s lunar exploration program, including samples returned from China’s Chang’e-5 mission and the upcoming Chang’e-6 Moon landing in 2024.”
From here, the research will look to continue dating the solar system and the moon rocks will go a long way to doing so.
Co-author Gretchen Benedix said the discovery answered as many questions as it presented.
“These results confirm what experts had long predicted based on remotely obtained images of the Moon and raise further questions as to why these young basalts exist,” Benedix said.
“The task will now turn to finding a mechanism that will explain how this relatively recent heating of the Moon may have supported the formation of basaltic magmas with temperatures exceeding 1000 degrees Celsius – and ultimately help researchers improve age dating of the entire solar system.”