If you ask Google a question, you might get an answer. Even if it’s wrong. Like this one: How old is the moon?
If you believe Google, the moon is 4.527 billion years old. You should answer “no” when it asks you if this is accurate.
In the 1970’s, the astronauts from Apollo 11 brought back samples of moon rocks. NASA gave at least nine different scientists the opportunity to test the rocks to calculate the age of the moon. They used at least ten different methods of radiometric dating. They generated 116 data points.
Of those 116 data points, only 10 of them produced ages that fell between 4.3 and 4.56 billion years old.
That’s 8.6% of the sample that produced ages that agreed with the suspected age of the moon. But wait, suspected? We’ll return to that shortly.
SO, WE CAN SAY WITH CONFIDENCE, THAT WE’RE PROBABLY CLOSE ON THE APPROXIMATE AGE
The radiometric dating methods produced results that put the moon’s age anywhere from 40 million years old to 8.2 billion years old.
What in the world? How did they resolve this massive discrepancy? If you have never researched the details of radiometric dating, you would have been led to believe that the science is absolute and infallible. But it’s not.
Without getting too technical, let’s look at the basics of one such process: The 40Ar-39Ar dating technique. This method measures the amount of argon-40 isotope in a particular rock sample and determines its age based on that measured quantity.
A particular isotope of Potassium, Potassium-40, decays over time into argon-40. Potassium is abundant in rock materials such as mica and clay.
New rock is formed when hot, liquid magma cools into a solid. The potassium-40 gets trapped, but the argon gas contained in the sample is able to escape. Over time, the potassium-40 that was trapped in the rock decays into argon-40. We know how long it takes potassium to decay into argon, so if we measure the amount of argon present in a rock, we can estimate how old the rock is.
YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY ABOUT ASSUMING
The catch is this: scientists have to make a few assumptions. One assumption is that all argon escapes during the cooling process such that there is absolutely no argon left inside the rock at its “birth.” Any amount of argon trapped in the rock from the beginning will produce incorrect results.
There is no way to know how much argon was present when the rock formed long ago, so to simplify the problem scientists assume zero.
But time and time again, when attempting to use this method scientists are confronted with a problem that they call “excess argon.” It means that, for some reason, there is more argon in the sample than their theory says there should be.
For example, it means that if you take samples of rock produced by volcanic eruptions 30 years ago and apply this potassium-argon dating technique, it will tell you that the rock is hundreds of millions of years old — not 30, like you know it to be. The radiometric dating method incorrectly states that the rock is hundreds of millions of years old.
The eruption of Mt. Saint Helens provided fresh lava flows to test the assumption that “there is no argon in freshly-created samples of rock.” It was proved false because there was argon present in the rock samples.
That’s obviously wrong. Typically when our scientific theories do not align with verifiable data, we discard them or at least modify them.
SCIENTISTS ADJUSTED THEIR DATA TO MATCH THEIR THEORIES
That’s what the scientists in 1970 did with their moon rocks. Well, they modified their data, anyway.
They already knew about “excess argon.” But in this case, there wasn’t enough argon — their results were saying that their rocks were half the age they were supposed to be. So, what did they do?
They “adjusted” for “argon loss.”
Wait, argon loss? From what?
Since they already “knew” their rocks should be older than their results were indicating, they hypothesized an “impact event”, such as a meteorite impact, that probably dislodged the rocks from their original location and bounced them to their final location — where the astronauts picked them up. During the impact, the event must have punctured the rocks and allowed some of the argon that had built up over time to escape.
Therefore, they adjusted the argon levels. The result was that, of the 116 data points, approximately ten, after various adjustments, came closer to the known age of the moon. But they still fell short.
Are you curious how a scientist justifies this in “scientific” prose?
Abstract. Seven crystalline rock samples returned by Apollo 11 have been analyzed in detail by means of the 40Ar-39Ar dating technique. The extent of radiogenic argon loss in these samples ranges from 7 percent to >48 percent. Potassium-argon ages, corrected for the effects of this loss, cluster relatively closely around the value of 3.7 x 109 years. Most of the vulcanism associated with the formation of the Mare Tranquillitatis presumably occurred around 3.7 x 109 years ago. A major cause of the escape of gas from lunar rock is probably the impact event which ejected the rock from its place of origin to its place of discovery. Upper limits for the times at which these impact events occurred have been estimated. (Grenville Turner, Science, 30 January 1970, “Argon-40/ Argon-39 Dating of Lunar Rock Samples” pages 466-468) (Emphasis is this website’s)
But here’s a bigger question: how did the scientists already “know” the “correct” age of the moon?
Simple: They used yet another dating technique whose underlying assumptions are, at best, wildly speculative and, at worst, blatant lies. This link discusses the problem in-depth and does a great job at illustrating the errors in the scientists’ assumptions.
Without already “knowing” the final number they were trying to attain, they would have no idea which of the samples to “adjust.” Without having such a bias, they would simply have a plethora of contradicting data points produced by a variety of methods, some of which calculated multiple ages for the same rock.
For example, moon rock sample number 10017 was revealed to yield an age of 250 million years using the 40Ar/39Ar low temp method, yet when tested using the 208Pb/232Th method its age was calculated to be 4.67 billion years.
Which do you use? Which one is “correct”? In this case, dubious data built upon suspect assumptions suggested the rocks should be approximately 4.5 billion years old. They might as well have adjusted their data so that all rocks were 10 billion years old, or 10 thousand years old if they had wanted.
This illustrates a general problem scientists have when dating rocks: which of the various techniques do they use? Whoever gets there first gets the leg up. Different methods produce different ranges of years, so knowing how old you want your samples to be dictates which method you apply.
That doesn’t sound very scientific, does it? It at least leaves room for healthy skepticism and uncertainty, but the public school textbooks don’t touch these sticky wickets.