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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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jsdm2000 February 26 2014 at 6:50 AM

You also might Consider : http://www.viralnova.com/galaxies-in-space/ if you want to have a glimpse of how important it all is.

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Gurrr ... February 25 2014 at 10:54 PM

give or take 2,000,000 yrs

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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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fentex5 February 26 2014 at 9:00 AM

Hey thumpers! This is more evidence that our world is a little bit older than the world you live in.

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3 replies
cecilefiredog1 February 25 2014 at 11:18 PM

Tell me aren't we all made of the stuff that is 4.4 billion years old? Nothing new has ever been created and nothing old has ever completely disappeared, things change from one thing into another and then add a few million or billion years and that old stuff turns into us all over again! It is the neatest thing that you could ever imagine happening!

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2 replies
drydockx cecilefiredog1 February 25 2014 at 11:33 PM

So, what does this story prove. I am waiting patiently

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2 replies
marko drydockx February 26 2014 at 6:13 AM

Reread the article drydocks and the answer you're requesting shall be found. Then reaerch if there are more questions.

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crux101 drydockx June 07 2014 at 11:01 AM

This is one of the Laws of Thermodynamics:

Energy cannot be created or destroyed...it only changes form...

and that's the LAW!!

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hankreddick cecilefiredog1 February 26 2014 at 1:39 AM

The perfect recycling system.

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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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1 reply
M Terry 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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stormee2015 February 26 2014 at 12:57 AM

i don't disbelieve for anythiing is possible;;according to scienist this planet has been here billions of years..

Flag Reply +3 rate up
krazzicraig February 26 2014 at 7:09 AM

The Fred Flintstone folks are out already .

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1 reply
nam2205 krazzicraig February 26 2014 at 10:40 AM

You win the prize for the best comment. All the rest are so dumb.,,,,,Thank you.

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D February 25 2014 at 11:41 PM

A weird thing about time is that, 1,000,000 years may seem
like a very short period of time to a super giant creature.
Also, a second of our time may seem like 10 years to a
super small creature. It’s all relative according to what Einstein believed.

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2 replies
hankreddick D February 26 2014 at 1:38 AM

I am just genuinely curious what different size makes to perception to time? Not arguing, just puzzled.

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JohnS D October 02 2014 at 12:50 PM

that is not an implication of special relativity

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dinerdbfl February 26 2014 at 6:44 AM

Gee, I wonder how old the rest of the earth is?????

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1 reply
JohnS dinerdbfl October 02 2014 at 12:54 PM

read the article

Flag Reply +1 rate up
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