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Moon and Earth May Be Younger Than Thought
Livermore chemist Lars Borg and his collaborators have analyzed three isotopic systems, including the elements lead, samarium, and neodymium, found in ancient lunar rocks. The researchers have determined that the Moon could be younger than originally estimated—just 4.36 billion years old. (Moon image courtesy of National Aeronautics and Space Administration.) The common estimate of the Moon’s age is 4.56 billion years old (roughly the same age as our solar system) as determined by mineralogy and chemical analysis of Moon rocks gathered during the Apollo missions.

The research has implications for the age of Earth as well. The common belief is that the Moon formed as a result of a giant impact into Earth and then solidified from an ocean of molten rock (magma). “If our analysis represents the age of the Moon, then Earth must be fairly young as well,” says Borg. “This age is in stark contrast to a planet like Mars, which is argued to have formed about 4.53 billion years ago. If the age we report is from one of the first-formed lunar rocks, then the Moon is about 165 million years younger than Mars and about 200 million years younger than large asteroids.”

The isotopic measurements were made by taking samples of ferroan anorthosite (FAN), which is considered to represent the oldest type of lunar crustal rock. According to Borg, these analyses showed that either the Moon is likely to have solidified significantly later than most previous estimates or the long-held belief that FANs are flotation cumulates of a primordial magma ocean is incorrect.

Chemical evolution of planetary bodies ranging from asteroids to large rocky planets is thought to begin with differentiation through solidification of magma oceans hundreds of kilometers in depth. Earth’s Moon is a typical example of this type of differentiation. However, one interpretation of the collaboration’s findings is that this process may not have occurred on the Moon. “The isotopic measurements showed that a specific FAN yields consistent ages from multiple isotopic dating techniques and strongly suggest that the ages record the time at which the rock crystallized,” says Borg.

Borg’s collaborators included researchers from University of Copenhagen, Université Blaise Pascal, and Carnegie Institution’s Department of Terrestrial Magnetism. The team’s research appeared in the September 1, 2011, edition of Nature.
Contact: Lars Borg (925) 424-5722 (

Agreement with China to Develop Clean Energy
The Laboratory has signed an agreement with the Clean Energy Research Institute in China to conduct joint research and development of clean energy technologies. Huaneng Power International, Inc., the largest power company in the world, formed the Clean Energy Research Institute. Under the memorandum of understanding, the Laboratory will create a stronger relationship with Huaneng and both parties will conduct research analysis and data exchange as established under the U.S.–China Clean Energy Research Center (CERC) that was created last year.

The two parties will exchange information and technology on carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), enhanced oil recovery, shale gas, and power engineering. Specifically, Livermore brings expertise in CCS, advanced materials science, engineering and design, and energy systems analysis. “We plan to work on applied scientific challenges in large-scale projects and deployments,” says Julio Friedmann, Livermore’s director of the carbon management program. “We look forward to working closely with our Chinese counterparts to find opportunities for collaboration that serve the needs of both nations,”

The Laboratory has a strong relationship with the Chinese through CERC, a project that facilitates joint research and development of clean energy technologies, including CCS. CCS is a process that separates and captures carbon dioxide from industrial and power plant flue streams, then compresses the gas and stores it underground in deep geologic formations. The process prevents greenhouse gas emissions from entering the atmosphere where they can contribute to global warming and climate change.
Contact: Tomás Díaz de la Rubia (925) 422-6714

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Privacy & Legal Notice | UCRL-TR-52000-11-10/11 | October 3, 2011