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26-Jun-2015 03:50 by 8 Comments

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A barrage of rocks hitting the solar system 3.9 billion years ago could have dramatically reshaped Earth’s geology and atmosphere.But some of the evidence for this proposed bombardment might be shakier than previously believed, new research suggests.

Many scientists think that a period of relative calm after Earth formed 4.6 billion years ago was interrupted by a period called the Late Heavy Bombardment, when rocky debris pummeled Earth and the other planets.The moon’s cratered surface holds the best evidence for this event; scientists have measured radioactive decay of argon gas trapped inside moon rocks to date when craters on the moon were formed.Many of the hundreds of moon rocks analyzed appear to be around 3.9 billion years old.That suggests the number of rocks hitting the moon suddenly spiked at that time — evidence for a Late Heavy Bombardment.Geochemists Patrick Boehnke and Mark Harrison of UCLA took a second look at the data.Measuring argon from the same rock at different temperatures leeches the gas from different parts of the rock’s crystals; if all those age values align, researchers can be relatively confident they’re getting an accurate age.

But many of the lunar samples previously analyzed gave different ages depending on the temperature at which their argon content was measured.Fossil fuel emissions could soon start to cause headaches for archaeologists and paleontologists using radiocarbon dating to study artifacts.New research suggests the release of carbon-based gases into the atmosphere by vehicles and factories could alter radiocarbon measurements of ancient material.Radiocarbon dating measures levels of carbon-14, a naturally radioactive form of the atom.This technique, first developed in the atoms within organic material decline over time, allowing investigators to measure the age of a given artifact.Ancient organic remains, such as oil and coal, are so old, they are nearly devoid of carbon-14.

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