4 billion-year-old rock from Earth was discovered on the Moon: What theorists say?

In January 2019, scientists in Australia made a shocking discovery, revealing that a chunk of rock brought back by the crew of the Apollo 14 moon landings was actually originated from Earth.
4 billion-year-old rock from Earth was discovered on the Moon: What theorists say? 1
© Image Credit: NASA

Scientists have long believed that the Moon was formed from the debris left behind after a Mars-sized planet called Theia (also known as “Thea”) collided with Earth. This cataclysmic event is widely accepted as the leading explanation for how Earth got its satellite, but there’s still a lot we don’t know about this dynamic moment in our planet’s history.

4 billion-year-old rock from Earth was discovered on the Moon: What theorists say? 2
Illustration of a medium-sized planet crashing into the Earth causing it to explode. Elements of this image furnished by NASA. © Image Credit: MR.Somchat Parkaythong/Shutterstock

When Apollo astronauts explored the lunar surface, they found several strange rocks that seemed out of place. These angular fragments are known as “blue-loop” rocks because of their distinctive blue-green color and looped appearance when viewed under magnification.

These peculiar rocks were first discovered on the Moon by astronauts during the Apollo 14 mission in 1971. Since then, scientists have identified similar specimens at various other sites on the Moon. But what they exactly are, and where they came from, has remained a mystery.

4 billion-year-old rock from Earth was discovered on the Moon: What theorists say? 3
Sample 14321, often known as Big Bertha, is a 9.0 kilogramme breccia that was recovered at Station C1 close to the crater’s rim. Image captured in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In January 2019, scientists in Australia made a shocking discovery, revealing that a chunk of rock brought back by the crew of the Apollo 14 moon landings was actually originated from Earth.

The scientists stated in an article published in the journal Earth and Planetary Science Letters that the rock may have been part of debris that was flung to the moon from Earth as a result of an asteroid crashing with our planet billions of years in the past.

The pebbles were collected during the Apollo 14 mission, which launched in 1971 and was the third space mission to successfully land on the moon. Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa, and Edgar Mitchell spent many days orbiting the moon performing scientific experiments and observations, while Shepard and Mitchell participated in a 33-hour space walk on the moon’s surface.

4 billion-year-old rock from Earth was discovered on the Moon: What theorists say? 4
Apollo 14 Commander Alan Shepard stands by the Modular Equipment Transporter (MET). The MET, which the astronauts nicknamed the “rickshaw,” was a cart for carrying around tools, cameras and sample cases on the lunar surface. Shepard can be identified by the vertical stripe on his helmet. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

In addition, the astronauts returned with roughly 42kg of rocks. This collection of lunar debris has supplied us with a wealth of information about the composition and evolution of the moon.

Recent study of some of these elements, however, has indicated that at least one of the lunar boulders collected by Shepard and Mitchell may have originated on Earth.

4 billion-year-old rock from Earth was discovered on the Moon: What theorists say? 5
The two moon-exploring crew men of the Apollo 14 lunar landing mission, photographed and collected the large rock pictured just above the exact center of this picture. The rock, casting a shadow off to the left, is lunar sample number 14321, referred to as a basketball-sized rock by newsmen and nicknamed “Big Bertha” by principal investigators. © Wikimedia Commons

According to Professor Alexander Nemchin of Curtin University’s School of Earth and Planetary Sciences in Western Australia, the composition of one of the moon’s rocks is extremely similar to granite, with considerable amounts of quartz inside. While quartz is common on Earth, it is incredibly difficult to discover it on the moon.

Furthermore, the scientists examined the zircon contained in the rock, a mineral that belongs to a group of neo-silicates present on both Earth and the Moon. They observed that the zircon identified in the rock matches terrestrial forms but not anything previously detected in lunar material. The scientists found that the rock developed in an oxidising environment, which would be highly rare on the moon.

According to Nemchin, these observations provide significant proof that the rock was not created on the moon, but rather originated from Earth. He did not rule out the idea that the rock developed under temporarily occurring identical conditions on the moon, but he concluded that this was exceedingly implausible.

Instead, the researchers proposed a different possibility. They hypothesised that the rock was transferred to the moon after its creation, potentially as a result of an asteroid impact with the Earth billions of years ago.

According to this idea, the asteroid collided with the Earth billions of years ago, releasing debris and boulders into orbit, some of which landed on the moon.

4 billion-year-old rock from Earth was discovered on the Moon: What theorists say? 6
The Apollo 14 astronauts Edgar Mitchell and Alan Shepard study Big Bertha during a press briefing at the Johnson Space Center’s Lunar Receiving Laboratory. © Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This idea would explain why the rock appeared to have a chemical makeup compatible with terrestrial planetary circumstances rather than lunar planetary conditions. It also accords with beliefs regarding the sort of bombardment that altered the Earth billions of years ago.

According to many experts, asteroids and meteorites may have struck the Earth during its early phases of development, causing major disruption to its surface.

Furthermore, it is assumed that the moon was at least three times closer to the Earth during this era, making it extremely possible that the moon was also impacted by flying debris as a result of these collisions.

If this idea is right, the rock returned by Apollo 14’s crew is one of the oldest terrestrial rocks ever discovered. Zircon analysis placed the age of the rock at around 4 billion years, making it slightly younger than the zircon crystal found in Western Australia as the oldest known Earth rock.

These ancient stones may appear to be little, unassuming boulders, yet they have the potential to change our knowledge of the Earth’s early phases of existence.

Above, this was a general view of the mainstream science. But there’s an extraordinary catch in this discovery. According to some theorists, the stone did not reach the moon surface naturally, but by some artificial means. They claim this, believing in the Silurian hypothesis.

The Silurian hypothesis basically conveys that humans are not the first sentient life forms to have evolved on our planet and that if there were antecedents 100 million years ago, practically all evidence of them would have been lost by now.

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Advanced civilization living on earth before humans. © Image Credit: Zishan Liu | Licensed from Dreamstime.Com (Editorial/Commercial Use Stock Photo)

To clarify, physicist and research co-author Adam Frank stated in an Atlantic piece, “It’s not frequently that you publish a paper offering a hypothesis that you don’t support.” In other words, they do not believe in the existence of an ancient civilization of Time Lords and Lizard People. Instead, their goal is to figure out how we could locate evidence of old civilizations on distant planets.

It may appear logical that we would witness evidence of such a civilization – after all, dinosaurs existed 100 million years ago, and we know this because their fossils have been discovered. They were, nonetheless, around for more than 150 million years.

That’s significant because it’s not simply about how old or broad the ruins of this imaginary civilization would be. It’s also about how long it’s been in existence. Humanity has expanded throughout the globe in an astonishingly short period of time – roughly 100,000 years.

If another species did the same, our chances of finding it in the geological record would be much slimmer. The research by Frank and his climatologist co-author Gavin Schmidt aims to pinpoint ways for detecting deep-time civilizations.

So, could those theorists be right? Is this possible that nearly 4 billion years ago, an advanced civilization like us thrived on this planet and they were able to influence the lunar surface. We know Earth is estimated to be 4.54 billion years old, but this is just an estimation, no one can conclude exactly when the Earth was created, and how many civilizations it actually witnessed in its own history.

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