A 4.2 billion year old impact basin on the Moon: U–Pb dating of zirconolite and apatite in lunar melt rock 67955
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A sharp rise in the flux of asteroid-size bodies traversing the inner Solar System at 3.9 Ga has become a central tenet of recent models describing planetary dynamics and the potential habitability of early terrestrial environments. The prevalence of ∼3.9 Ga∼3.9 Ga crystallization ages for lunar impact-melt breccias and U–Pb isotopic compositions of lunar crustal rocks provide the primary evidence for a short-lived, cataclysmic episode of late heavy bombardment at that time. Here we report U–Pb isotopic compositions of zirconolite and apatite in coarse-grained lunar melt rock 67955, measured by ion microprobe, that date a basin-scale impact melting event on the Moon at 4.22±0.01 Ga4.22±0.01 Ga followed by entrainment within lower grade ejecta from a younger basin approximately 300 million yr later. Significant impacts prior to 3.9 Ga are also recorded by lunar zircons although the magnitudes of those events are difficult to establish. Other isotopic evidence such as 40Ar–39Ar ages of granulitic lunar breccias, regolith fragments, and clasts extracted from fragmental breccias, and Re–Os isotopic compositions of lunar metal is also suggestive of impact-related thermal events in the lunar crust during the period 4.1–4.3 Ga.We conclude that numerous large impactors hit the Moon prior to the canonical 3.9 Ga cataclysm, that some of those pre-cataclysm impacts were similar in size to the younger lunar basins, and that the oldest preserved lunar basins are likely to be significantly older than 3.9 Ga. This provides sample-based support for dynamical models capable of producing older basins on the Moon and discrete populations of impactors. An extended period of basin formation implies a less intense cataclysm at 3.9 Ga, and therefore a better opportunity for preservation of early habitable niches and Hadean crust on the Earth. A diminished cataclysm at 3.9 Ga suggests that the similarity in the age of the oldest terrestrial continental crust with the canonical lunar cataclysm is likely to be coincidental with no genetic significance.
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