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Chronological evidence that the Moon is either young or did not have a global magma ocean


Chemical evolution of planetary bodies, ranging from asteroids to the large rocky planets, is thought to begin with differentiation through solidification of magma oceans many hundreds of kilometres in depth1,2,3. The Earth’s Moon is the archetypical example of this type of differentiation. Evidence for a lunar magma ocean is derived largely from the widespread distribution, compositional and mineralogical characteristics, and ancient ages inferred for the ferroan anorthosite (FAN) suite of lunar crustal rocks. The FANs are considered to be primary lunar flotation-cumulate crust that crystallized in the latter stages of magma ocean solidification. According to this theory, FANs represent the oldest lunar crustal rock type2,3,4. Attempts to date this rock suite have yielded ambiguous results, however, because individual isochron measurements are typically incompatible with the geochemical make-up of the samples, and have not been confirmed by additional isotopic systems5,6,7,8,9. By making improvements to the standard isotopic techniques, we report here the age of crystallization of FAN 60025 using the 207Pb–206Pb, 147Sm–143Nd and 146Sm–142Nd isotopic systems to be 4,360 ± 3 million years. This extraordinarily young age requires that either the Moon solidified significantly later than most previous estimates or the long-held assumption that FANs are flotation cumulates of a primordial magma ocean is incorrect. If the latter is correct, then much of the lunar crust may have been produced by non-magma-ocean processes, such as serial magmatism10.

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Figure 1: Pb–Pb isochron diagram.
Figure 2: Sm–Nd isochron diagrams.
Figure 3: Summary of lunar ages.

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This work was performed under the auspices of the US Department of Energy by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under contract number DE-AC52-07NA27344. The portion of the work performed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism were supported by NASA Cosmochemistry grants NNH08ZDA001N and NNX08AH65G, respectively. The Centre for Star and Planet Formation is funded by the Danish National Research Foundation and the University of Copenhagen’s programme of excellence. We appreciate comments by A. Brandon.

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L.E.B. identified, located and prepared the sample for analysis. J.N.C. performed Pb–Pb measurements. L.E.B., M.B. and R.W.C. completed Sm–Nd measurements. All authors contributed to interpretation of data and preparation of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Lars E. Borg.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Borg, L., Connelly, J., Boyet, M. et al. Chronological evidence that the Moon is either young or did not have a global magma ocean. Nature 477, 70–72 (2011).

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