A part of the Earth, which may be 4.1 billion years old and described as the "oldest rock" on the planet, may have been found and dug on the moon by Apollo astronauts, according to a new study.
The possible relic was discovered and excavated in 1971, and scientists believe it was sent off the Earth, thanks to a powerful impact, probably an asteroid or a comet. After the collision with the moon (which at that time was three times closer to Earth than now), it is mixed with other lunar surface materials.
"This is an extraordinary find that helps paint a better picture of the early Earth and the bombings that have changed our planet at the dawn of life," says research co-author David Kring, a scientist at the USRA at Luna and Planetary Institute in Houston, in a statement.
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Analyzing the lunar samples collected from the Apollo 14 mission, the researchers found that the rock consisted of 0.08 ounces of quartz, feldspar and zircon, minerals that are quite common on Earth but "highly unusual on the Moon," according to the statement.
Scientists added that it is possible for the sample to crystallize on the moon, but "this would require conditions that were never taken out of the lunar samples" and should have been created at a huge depth where different compositions are expected.
The study was published in the scientific journal Letters to Earth and Planets,
The rock crystallized approximately 12 miles (20 kilometers) below the Earth's surface, between 4.1 and 4 billion years.
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It is possible that the rock is struck again once it reaches the lunar surface, scientists add. It is partially melted, buried and then excavated by another blow about 26 million years ago.
This collision has led to the formation of a cone crater that has been explored by Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell.
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