UW researchers' work shows how Earth's crust formed - WKOW 27: Madison, WI Breaking News, Weather and Sports

UW researchers' work shows how Earth's crust formed

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Photo of zircon from John Valley Photo of zircon from John Valley
MADISON (WKOW) -- An international team of researchers led by scientists at UW-Madison have revealed new details on how Earth became habitable.

The researchers have confirmed the Earth's crust first formed at least 4.4 billion years ago, just 160 million years after the solar system formed. Geoscience Professor John Valley says the work shows that the time when our planet was a fiery ball covered in magma ocean came earlier.

"This confirms our view of how the Earth cooled and became habitable," Valley said in a statement Sunday. "This may also help us understand how other habitable planets would form."

Valley studies zircon crystals, which are the oldest known terrestrial materials that can help scientists see how the Earth's crust formed during the first geologic eon of the planet. The crystals were found in western Australia's Jack Hills region. It's confirmed to be the oldest known material of any kind formed on Earth.

In the study, researchers used a new technique called atom-probe tomography that allows for an accurate way to establish the age and thermal history of the zircon by determining the mass of individual atoms of lead in the sample.

The study was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, Department of Energy and the NASA Astrobiology Institute.
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