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Name: Brian
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Question:
I recently had a discussion with a "young Earth" believer in Biblical cre- ation. He raised an argument claiming that the Moon could not be as old as scientists claim because there is not as much dust (cosmic dust?) accumulat- ed on its surface as would be expected from its rate of deposition. I had never heard this argument before, and I am not sure where to go to research the problem. Has anyone dealt with question before, and do you know of any references that address this question?



Replies:
I am not familiar with this argument. I think any good general astronomy textbook would be a good place to start looking for references. I believe that some of the rocks returned by the Apollo missions were quite old, but other were formed more recently. Apparently some parts of the lunar surface were flooded by molten lava 1-2 billion years after its formation. That would certainly destroy wipe out any dust layer. In addition, I believe that the origin of the Moon is still unknown. Some people believe it was formed in unison with the Earth; others believe it was a separate body which was captured by the Earth.

R. Gerver


Up-date: July 2008
This is a common, but outdated and incorrect claim. It was based on a bad calculation in 1960 by H. Patterson in a Scientific American article which was debunked first in 1984. Patterson made an incorrect assumption about nickel content in meteors (assuming that all nickel in airborne terrestrial dust was meteoric, when it was actually largely terrestrial), and creationists apply this number to the Moon, where, in fact, the meteoric dust influx rate is even less due to the lesser gravity. Since the Apollo program, instruments on the Moon (and many other methods of confirmation) indicate that the lunar influx rate is on the order of a thousand times smaller than Patterson claimed.

Further, although the Apollo lander’s disked feet only sank in a few inches, on Youtube you can see a video of an astronaut jamming a 1 meter rod into the lunar soil, indicating more compacted dust than normally is seen as astronauts kick up the top few inches.

Lastly, moon rocks retrieved by Apollo astronauts and photos of lunar mountains show clear evidence of erosion (moonrocks are jagged under the soil level, and eroded where exposed). Evidence indicates this occurred due to micrometeroid strikes, and at the glacial pace that these occur, this couldn’t have happened in thousands of years, but many millions or billions.

Interestingly, many creationists (e.g., creationontheweb.com), are abandoning books making these claims, saying about one book: "Despite its good intentions, it seemed to be focusing heavily on material that was incorrect, outdated by many decades, speculative, poorly documented, and usually not peer-reviewed by the creationist scientific journals."

For more information, consult the references below. Dalrymple, G.B. (1984) How old is the Earth? A reply to "scientific" creationism. Proceedings, 63rd Annual Meeting of the Pacific devision, American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1(2) 66-131.

Dohnanyi, J.S. (1972) Interplanetary objects in review: statistics of their masses and dynamics. Icarus, 17: 1-48.

Hughes, D.W. (1975) Cosmic dust influx to the Earth. Space Research XV: 531-539.

P. Bridges


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