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Scientists find 4 billion year-old gem in Australia

4 bilion year old gem stone found in Australia's Jack Hills region

(Reuters) - To put it mildly, this is one gem of a gem.

Scientists using two different age-determining techniques have shown that a tiny zircon crystal found on a sheep ranch in western Australia is the oldest known piece of our planet, dating to 4.4 billion years ago.

Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience on Sunday, the researchers said the discovery indicates that Earth's crust formed relatively soon after the planet formed and that the little gem was a remnant of it.

John Valley, a University of Wisconsin geoscience professor who led the research, said the findings suggest that the early Earth was not as harsh a place as many scientists have thought.

To determine the age of the zircon fragment, the scientists first used a widely accepted dating technique based on determining the radioactive decay of uranium to lead in a mineral sample.

But because some scientists hypothesized that this technique might give a false date due to possible movement of lead atoms within the crystal over time, the researchers turned to a second sophisticated method to verify the finding.

They used a technique known as atom-probe tomography that was able to identify individual atoms of lead in the crystal and determine their mass, and confirmed that the zircon was indeed 4.4 billion years old.

To put that age in perspective, the Earth itself formed 4.5 billion years ago as a ball of molten rock, meaning that its crust formed relatively soon thereafter, 100 million years later. The age of the crystal also means that the crust appeared just 160 million years after the very formation of the solar system.

The finding supports the notion of a "cool early Earth" where temperatures were low enough to sustain oceans, and perhaps life, earlier than previously thought, Valley said.

This period of Earth history is known as the Hadean eon, named for ancient Greek god of the underworld Hades because of hellish conditions including meteorite bombardment and an initially molten surface.

"One of the things that we're really interested in is: when did the Earth first become habitable for life? When did it cool off enough that life might have emerged?" Valley said in a telephone interview.

The discovery that the zircon crystal, and thereby the formation of the crust, dates from 4.4 billion years ago suggests that the planet was perhaps capable of sustaining microbial life 4.3 billion years ago, Valley said.

"We have no evidence that life existed then. We have no evidence that it didn't. But there is no reason why life could not have existed on Earth 4.3 billion years ago," he added.

The oldest fossil records of life are stromatolites produced by an archaic form of bacteria from about 3.4 billion years ago.

The zircon was extracted in 2001 from a rock outcrop in Australia's Jack Hills region. For a rock of such importance, it is rather small. It measures only about 200 by 400 microns, about twice the diameter of a human hair.

"Zircons can be large and very pretty. But the ones we work on are small and not especially attractive except to a geologist," Valley said. "If you held it in the palm of your hand, if you have good eyesight you could see it without a magnifying glass."

(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

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JBFALASKA 22 hours ago

I'm pretty sure John McCain is older. At least his cold war ideas are older.

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HELLO SHELDON February 27 2014 at 6:59 AM


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M February 27 2014 at 1:19 AM

Oh good grief... I guess I got caught up in the *excitement* of the find, and didn't notice something until now.

Why not bring up the (very old) news that cold fusion had been proven in a laboratory?
It was *unfortunate* that other labs couldn't duplicate the results... It turned out the initial finding was based on a temperature increase in a container of liquid, leading to the conclusion that heating of the liquid due to energy above the initiating electrical discharge was caused by cold fusion. However, the liquid had not been stirred to equalize the temperature, and merely read the *localized* higher temperature. GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) with the conclusions. So there was no cold fusion? No, there was not.

In this case,
"They used a technique known as atom-probe tomography that was able to identify individual atoms of lead in the crystal and determine their mass, and confirmed that the zircon was indeed 4.4 billion years old."

Now what could *possibly* be wrong with that procedure?

Well, using any radioactive decay as a basis of determining age *REQUIRES* uniform distribution of the isotopes and elements as the whole basis for the science being used!
So what do these guys do? They look at individual atoms... and in a sample of a gem so small that a lot of people wouldn't be able to see it if it was placed in their hand!

The reason radiocarbon dating cannot be used in many/some cases is because it requires a relatively large sample, (much more than this entire gem!), to ensure the uniform sample requirement.
Talk about a *tempest in a teacup*.

Classic case of GIGO. So sorry.

BTW, did they mention how many *gems* they tested before (and after) they found this particular piece? Especially some found near its location? No?

To put my comments in perspective, think about an entire glacier that contains a single leaf carried there by some freakishly strong windstorm. So, 99.999999999999% of the glacier would be water, but what if you got an incredibly small sample of the glacier, say the size of an ice cube, but that sample contained the leaf, or even a piece of the leaf. What conclusions could be reached by studying that ice cube, and generalizing it represented the entire glacier?

Easier example?
Three blind men encounter an elephant, and are quickly chased away by its keeper. When they compare what they found, one found a thick round thing like a tree trunk (leg), another found it to be very strong and flexible like a large snake (trunk), and the third was swatted in the face by something like a whip (tail).
Each one felt the elephant, but their sample size was too small to make sense of it.

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Terry February 26 2014 at 12:53 PM

From reading some of the comments on here it is obvious why this nation continues to slide farther and farther down the world rankings in science.

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M February 26 2014 at 2:44 PM

Right on the mark!

I was reading about atomic and nuclear topics in elementary school, (every book in the city library), and understood the idea of *half-life* back then. Carbon dating is good to roughly 40,000 years (8 x the half-life). What I didn't understand then was the mathematics in the books, because I now know it was differential equations and advanced calculus, (a bit much for elementary school).

I used to think it was BAD when High School honors society kids couldn't figure out how to do sales tax on calculators that didn't have a % key.

Well, not to worry, the No Child Left Behind policy will get these folks graduated so they can go on to bigger and better things, like designing battery systems that don't have electric cars catch on fire, or overheat and ground the latest Boeing passenger jet, or have cell phones and laptops catch fire and/or explode, or build and launch a space vehicle to fly by Mars and crash into it instead, or build and launch Space Shuttles that use O-rings that burned through on half of the launches before one finally caused a catastrophic failure, or determine that ice strikes during the lift phase do not need any shuttle inspections because they couldn't actually harm the shuttle, or build a *nearsighted* space telescope.

I suppose it is a good thing we already went to the Moon, or the astronauts might want to turn around and come back when they couldn't text and play Call Of Duty in flight... (*smirk*).

And for *alfredschrader* commenting that all crude oil is 5,000 feet deep, (and says he has a degree in business and engineering, also says he excels in *petroleum goelogy* (he said that)), so I guess he'd be surprised at the depth of the early Texas Spindletop oil, or the Pennsylvania oil, or the 2-3 thousand feet deep Kentucky oil, or the depth of offshore oil and gas wells. But, he *excels*...

I suppose he was overqualified to run the cash register at McDonalds where the clerks need to press the pictures of the food items being ordered. (And of course the register *knows* all the prices, adds them and the sales tax, and tells them how much money to give back in change...).

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Ol Bob February 26 2014 at 12:08 PM

If the Earth is only 5000 years old, that gem must have that fast aging disease.

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dickn2000b February 26 2014 at 10:56 AM

"The oldest piece on Earth?" I thought that was Nancy Pelosi.

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nyknicks1998 February 26 2014 at 11:03 AM

Nope. The oldest thing on earth is the way you ass clowns think.....

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fentex5 February 26 2014 at 12:39 PM

No. it's you mother.

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gogayu February 26 2014 at 10:27 AM

The Right Wing Must Be Having A Fit.... Again earth is only 5000 years old and as proof, they have many Republican members of the Congress who can give "first hand" accounts of they saw.

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nam2205 February 26 2014 at 10:30 AM

You are an idiot.

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bill February 26 2014 at 9:29 AM

Now what???

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alfredschrader February 26 2014 at 9:28 AM

Everything on and in the Earth came from space including this zircon.
The material the Earth is made of is billions of years old, but not the Earth itself.
Also on here it says they found some of Einstein's work questioning the Big Bang.
The Big Bang is just a theory that never happened. You see, stars (Suns) only last about two million years then their fuel is depleted. If the Big Bang had occured creating all of the stars, then all of the stars should have gone out a long time ago, but they haven't. The stars you see in the sky at night now are new. Moreso, new stars are contantly being created.

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lgddavison February 26 2014 at 9:04 AM

Religous freaks. You can go home now. You are dismissed.

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