The Sciences

A Legit "Young Earth" Theory: Our Planet May Be Only 4.4 Billion Years Old

80beatsBy Joseph CalamiaJul 13, 2010 1:50 AM


Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news

The bits that make up Earth apparently took their time pulling themselves together. New research hints that our home didn't form as a fully-fledged planet until 70 million years after its currently accepted birth date, making the planet younger than scientists believed. The evidence appears in Nature and looks at the Earth's "accretion"--the swirling together of gas and dust that formed our planet. Researchers previously believed that the Earth's accretion was a fairly steady process, happening in about 30 million years, but this study suggests that Earth took a lot longer to form.

“The whole issue hinges on working out how long it took for the core of the Earth to form, which is one of the big unknowns in this area of science,” said Dr. John Rudge, one of the authors at the University of Cambridge. “One of the problems has been that scientists usually presume Earth's accretion happened at an exponentially decreasing rate. We believe that the process may not have been that simple and that it could well have been a much more staggered, stop-start affair.” [The Telegraph]

Specifically, the scientists compared isotopes in our planet's mantle with those found in meteorites, which are as old as the solar system. The researchers used meteorites as samples of our embryonic planet's materials, and by comparing the isotopes in these building materials to the final product--the earth's mantle--they could make several computer models to determine how the planet formed. After looking at models using different isotopes, the researchers believe that the planet had one great growth spurt (sticking together about two-thirds of the Earth's current mass) followed by a period of long slow growth. They say the formation could have ended with a walloping by a planet-sized chunk of materials that gave us the last of our mass and also broke off a chunk to form the Moon.

"If correct, [this model] would mean the Earth was about 100 million years in the making altogether," Dr. Rudge said. "We estimate that makes it about 4.467 billion years old--a mere youngster compared with the 4.537 billion-year-old planet we had previously imagined." [BBC]

Related content: 80beats: Life May Have Formed on Earth Thanks to a Lush, Enveloping Haze 80beats: When the Sun Was Young, Did It Steal Comets From Other Stars? 80beats: Why Didn’t the Young Earth Freeze Into an Ice Ball? 80beats: Scientist Smackdown: Did a Nuclear Blast on Earth Create the Moon? 80beats: Young Earth May Have Had Tectonic Plates, Not Hellish Magma OceansImage: NASA

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!


Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2022 Kalmbach Media Co.