Researchers discover the world’s oldest rocks

September 26th, 2008 - 3:09 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Sep 26 (IANS) McGill University researchers have discovered the oldest ever existing rocks, which shed more light on our planet’s mysterious beginnings. Known as “faux-amphibolites”, these rocks may be remnants of a portion of the earth’s primordial crust - the first crust that formed at the surface of our planet.

The ancient rocks were found in Northern Quebec, along the Hudson Bay coast, 40 km south of Inukjuak in an area known as the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt.

McGill’s Jonathan O’Neil and colleagues, who made the discovery, estimated the age of the rocks using isotopic dating, which analyses the decay of the radioactive element neodymium-142 contained within them.

This technique can only be used to date rocks roughly 4.1 billion years old or older; this is the first time it has ever been used to date terrestrial rocks, because nothing this old has ever been discovered before.

The data from these findings will give researchers a new window on the early separation of Earth’s mantle from the crust in the Hadean Era, said O’Neil.

“Our discovery not only opens the door to further unlock the secrets of the earth’s beginnings,” he continued. “Geologists now have a new playground to explore how and when life began, what the atmosphere may have looked like, and when the first continent formed.”

Their results were published in Friday issue of Science.

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