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Scientists: Moon over the hill at 4 51 billion years old

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) -- It turns out the moon is older than many scientists suspected: a ripe 4.51 billion years old.

That's the newest estimate, thanks to rocks and soil collected by the Apollo 14 moonwalkers in 1971.

A research team reported Wednesday that the moon formed within 60 million years of the birth of the solar system. Previous estimates ranged within 100 million years, all the way out to 200 million years after the solar system's creation.

The scientists conducted uranium-lead dating on fragments of the mineral zircon extracted from Apollo 14 lunar samples. The pieces of zircon were minuscule -- no bigger than a grain of sand.

Lead author Melanie Barboni of UCLA says knowing the age of the moon is key to understanding the formation and evolution of Earth.