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Apr 10 / Dave Schumaker

4.4 Billion Year Old Zircon On Display

Dubbed “the oldest thing ever,” a tiny speck of crystalline zircon from Australia that is about 4.4 billion years old was on display yesterday at the University of Wisconsin, Madinson. So what’s the big deal about it? Analysis of the object in 2001 by John Valley, a UW-Madison professor of geology and geophysics, startled researchers around the world by concluding that the early Earth, instead of being a roiling ocean of magma, was cool enough to have oceans and continents — key conditions for life. “It’s not very much to look at because it’s so very small. But to me, the miraculous thing about the crystal is that we’ve been able to make such wide-ranging inferences about the early Earth,” Valley said. “This is our first glimpse into the earliest history of the Earth.”

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