A Fake Diamond in the Sky

Your pockmarked face conceals a hidden truth,

Guarding your age like some resentful crone

And leading us astray with dreams of youth.

A replica of our most precious stone,

Brought down by men whose footsteps fouled your home,

Reveals to us when your decay set in.

Your secret is no longer one you own;

We found the time that’s buried in your skin,

So now the light you cast seems somehow faint and dim.

An illustration from Jules Verne’s novel “Around the Moon” drawn by Émile-Antoine Bayard and Alphonse de Neuville.

This is a Spenserian stanza, inspired by recent research that has discovered the moon is at least 4.51 billion years old, which is 40 – 140 million years older than was previously thought.

By examining zircons (a type of mineral, whose colourless varieties are often used as affordable alternatives to diamonds in jewellery) found in moon rocks brought back to Earth by astronauts on the Apollo 14 mission (who landed on the moon in 1971), researchers identified a minimum age for the moon.

It is believed that the moon was formed by a violent, head-on collision between the early Earth and a “planetary embryo” called Theia in an event known as the ‘Giant Impact.’ Since the Giant Impact the moon has experienced many other smaller collisions, and because of this it is usually difficult to determine the age of moon rocks, as most of them contain a variety of different fragments from the colliding objects. Previous investigations have therefore identified the age of some of these collision events, rather than the age of the moon’s formation.

However, by examining pristine zircons that were uncontaminated from other sources (and which were created during the Giant Impact), the researchers in this study could determine the age of the moon. One of the ways that they could date the zircon was by measuring the rate at which the uranium contained within them had decayed into lead. The researchers concluded  that the formation of the Earth-Moon system must have occurred within the first 60 million years of the formation of our solar system.

 

An audio version of the poem can be heard here.

6 thoughts on “A Fake Diamond in the Sky

  1. The physics is intriguing and concise! The poetry, in format and content, is, as usual, elegant and deep. But, for myself, the ambiguities of the title jar, and provoked the following response:

    Moon a Fake?

    To better know its age
    And monetary worth
    May help to set the stage
    For future visitors from earth.

    But other than a useful fact
    It never will in any way detract
    From Moon’s ancient and respected place
    In children’s dreams, and lores of our race.

    Ever since all of us were new
    It sparked eyes and whys of our quest,
    Its times and tides remaining always true…
    …And gently nudged us when to wake or rest.

    Hope you don’t mind,
    H. Opsimath

    • Hellmut,

      Thank you for such kind comments, and such a creative response! 🙂

      My thought process with the title was to invoke the notion that zircons are seen as ‘fake diamonds’ but that really they can be quite beautiful. It was not a comment on the moon itself, for which you beautifully describe my own feelings. Perhaps “Fake Diamonds in the Sky” would have been better?

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