When we think of something being old, we usually think of the human time scale. It’s rather difficult to imagine something being millions or even billions of years old. As we know, the Earth was formed around 4.6 billion years ago. But that is nothing compared to the oldest material every to grace our planet, which has recently been discovered.
Scientists believe they’ve discovered the oldest material ever found on our pale blue dot. Published in an article in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week, they discovered specs of dust on a meteor that hit Earth in the 1960’s that has been dated to 7.5 billion years old. To put that into perspective, that’s more than half the age of the universe.
It is believed that these dust particles are from a massive exploding star, the remnants making its way onto the wondering meteorite. According to the international team of researchers, led by Philipp Heck of the University of Chicago and the Field Museum, after such a massive explosion the dust can travel many lightyears and can be picked up by passing meteorites and comets.
Interestingly, this isn’t a newly discovered meteorite. Rather, we have been studying it for decades but have never truly dug through every mystery that it holds. It hit Earth on September 29th, 1969 in Victoria, Australia. It was witnessed as well, which is extremely rare for Earth collisions. According to the article it is one of the most primitive types of meteorites known to science, called a carbonaceous chondrite meteorite.
The age of the dust particles were discovered after a small piece of the meteorite was removed and crushed into fine powder for analysis. It was then turned into a paste, dissolved and dated using an isotope of Neon, called Ne-21.
By Heck’s own admission, it was an unexpected find. He said that almost 10% of the particles analysed were more than 5.5 billion years old with most being between 4.6 billion and 4.9 billion years old. While they those would have already broken the record for the oldest material ever found here, the 7.5 billion year old particles is more than 3 billion years older than the planet it was found on.