'Faster-ticking clock' indicates early solar system may have evolved faster than we think

May 01, 2012

Our solar system is four and a half billion years old, but its formation may have occurred over a shorter period of time than we previously thought, says an international team of researchers from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and universities and laboratories in the US and Japan..

Establishing chronologies of past events or determining ages of objects require having clocks that tick at different paces, according to how far back one looks. Nuclear clocks, used for dating, are based on the rate of decay of an expressed by a half-life, the time it takes for half of a number of nuclei to decay, a property of each nuclear species.

Radiocarbon dating for example, invented in Chicago in the late 1940s and refined ever since, can date artifacts back to prehistoric times because the half-life of radiocarbon (carbon-14) is a few thousand years. The evaluation of ages of the history of earth or of the solar system requires extremely "slow-paced" chronometers consisting of nuclear clocks with much longer half-lives.

The activity of one of these clocks, known as nucleus samarium-146 (146Sm), was examined by Michael Paul, the Kalman and Malke Cooper Professor of at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, as well as researchers from the University of Notre Dame and the Argonne National Laboratory in the US and from two Japanese universities.

146Sm belongs to a family of nuclear species which were "live" in our sun and its solar system when they were born. Events thereafter, and within a few hundred million years, are dated by the amount of 146Sm that was left in various mineral archives until its eventual "extinction."

146Sm has become the main tool for establishing the of the solar system over its first few hundred million years. This by itself owes to a delicate geochemical property of the element samarium, a rare element in nature. It is a sensitive probe for the separation, or differentiation, of the silicate portion of earth and of other planetary bodies.

The main result of the work of the international scientists, detailed in a recent article in the journal Science, is a new determination of the half-life of 146Sm, previously adopted as 103 million years, to a much shorter value of 68 million years. The shorter half-life value, like a clock ticking faster, has the effect of shrinking the assessed chronology of events in the early and in planetary differentiation into a shorter time span.

The new time scale, interestingly, is now consistent with a recent and precise dating made on a lunar rock and is in better agreement with the dating obtained with other chronometers.

The measurement of the half-life of 146Sm, performed over several years by the collaborators, involved the use of the ATLAS particle accelerator at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.

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User comments : 31

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Valentiinro
3.9 / 5 (7) May 01, 2012
In B4 "It was made in 6 days!!!1"
Lurker2358
1.4 / 5 (10) May 01, 2012
Ah yes, a 55 million years mistake in the estimation of the half-life of an isotope.

I thought all this stuff was so "absolutely" known, but that was a margin of error of plus 80.8% of the new value.

Why, that would mean that after just two half lives, you "age" would be off by plus 110 million years, and after 4 half-lives your age would be off by plus 220 million years.

That's only about enough time for an average continent to travel 1/7th of a circum-navigation of the planet...

Hardly worth mentioning...

*sarcasm flag off*
ParamJeet_Singh
not rated yet May 01, 2012
45 years, and not any billion light years..... what are you going to do about it..... correct the typo ?....
SteveL
4.6 / 5 (10) May 01, 2012
Ugh. Wrong by a very significant amount. The worst part is this provides fodder for those confused among us who make it a hobby to blast science in order to further their own agenda.
dnatwork
5 / 5 (19) May 01, 2012
How surprising is it that there would be an error in the previous estimate of the half-life? They picked this element because it decays so slowly, so you need an extremely large amount of it, an extremely long time to watch it decay, or extremely precise ways of measuring it. They didn't have either of the first two, but they improved the measurements, so now they have a better estimate.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (21) May 01, 2012
"The new time scale, interestingly, is now consistent with a recent and precise dating made on a lunar rock and is in better agreement with the dating obtained with other chronometers."

-This is how we learn.
I thought all this stuff was so "absolutely" known, but that was a margin of error of plus 80.8% of the new value
-This is how some people try to keep us from learning. Sweet jebus.
Infinite Fractal Consciousness
5 / 5 (17) May 01, 2012
With great effort and dedication, scientists discover something new and useful. Cue the outrage.
fmfbrestel
4.5 / 5 (25) May 01, 2012
I thought all this stuff was so "absolutely" known, but that was a margin of error of plus 80.8% of the new value.


The only people asserting "all this stuff" being "absolutely known" are people creating straw-man arguments to attack science. Those people generally have an absolute faith in some supernatural concoction. Since their faith is absolute they perceive defects discovered (corrected or otherwise) in science as proof of the corruption of science (since a similar fault in their faith would be devastating).

People who take science for what it is (a method for understanding our world based on observation and experiment) understand that finding and correcting an error like this one is just part of the process.

Absolutes are for tyrants and demagogues.
Lurker2358
1.5 / 5 (13) May 01, 2012
Absolutes are for tyrants and demagogues.


That statement is an absolute, so what does that make you?

Your computer runs on absolutes too.

I don't create strawman arguments, so you must have me confused with someone else.

I present accepted fact and theory which conflicts with other accepted fact and theory, and point out that contradiction.

That is quite a different thing from a strawman.

Ah, in the past, when I questioned the validity of Radioisotope dating, I was given the typical, "We know this to an obscene degree of precision, due to some people smarter than you, etc, etc," line.

Turns out, they were dead wrong before, and I won't be surprised if they are still dead wrong.
Shabs42
4.7 / 5 (13) May 01, 2012
Since you aren't providing links, I'm not going to bother sorting through your comments. Was that previous argument about Samarium-146?

As pointing out by dnatwork, the isotopes with extremely long half-lifes are difficult to pin down exactly, but we are getting better at it. At least science actually strives to improve on itself and update its views given new evidence. Going from 103 million to 68 million doesn't suddenly mean that everything might only be 6,000 years old.

Deathclock
3.1 / 5 (12) May 01, 2012
Ah, in the past, when I questioned the validity of Radioisotope dating, I was given the typical, "We know this to an obscene degree of precision, due to some people smarter than you, etc, etc," line.

Turns out, they were dead wrong before, and I won't be surprised if they are still dead wrong.


Yeah, but YOU DIDN'T FIGURE IT OUT, THEY DID. Scientists question themselves, and correct their own mistakes. Can ANYONE be wrong about ANYTHING, of course they can... but I'll take the word of an actual physicist over yours any day of the week.

You are no one, your opinion is not worth anything next to theirs, and you are in no position to question their work, THEY QUESTION THEIR OWN WORK, because they are intelligent enough to do so, you are not.
fmfbrestel
4.6 / 5 (9) May 02, 2012
That statement is an absolute, so what does that make you?


Really? Are you that dense? Should we devolve into school yard taunting now?

I don't create strawman arguments, so you must have me confused with someone else.


Fine, Ill give you a sarcasm pass if you like, lets look at your new claim.

Ah, in the past, when I questioned the validity of Radioisotope dating, I was given the typical, "We know this to an obscene degree of precision, due to some people smarter than you, etc, etc," line.

Turns out, they were dead wrong before, and I won't be surprised if they are still dead wrong.


Argument from fallacy: assumes that if an argument for some conclusion is fallacious, then the conclusion itself is false.

Historian's fallacy: when one assumes that decision makers of the past viewed events from the same perspective and having the same information as those subsequently analyzing the decision.

If you post more we can outline some more fallacies.
kevinrtrs
1.3 / 5 (15) May 02, 2012
At least science actually strives to improve on itself and update its views given new evidence. Going from 103 million to 68 million doesn't suddenly mean that everything might only be 6,000 years old.
Very interesting statement. So ask yourself this: If we are making great strides in improving the accuracy with which we can measure these things, why is it that the age of the earth has been pegged at 4.5 billion years since about 1950? Why has there not been any improvement in the accuracy of that estimate? Where is the science in that figure, given that we are constantly improving our abilities to measure things more accurately?
kevinrtrs
1.3 / 5 (20) May 02, 2012
You are no one, your opinion is not worth anything next to theirs, and you are in no position to question their work, THEY QUESTION THEIR OWN WORK, because they are intelligent enough to do so, you are not.

Actually it's quite well-known now that a lot of scientists will ignore the very contradicting facts they've discovered in order to kowtow to the existing dogma. More so when the existing dogma relates to things that happened in the past - where no on can go to either verify or falsify the current religious dogma. Religious, because that's what it is when you have to take it all on faith in what some supposedly highly educated master mind has said. This kind of scientific worship has been documented time and time again.
okyesno
1 / 5 (12) May 02, 2012
Everytime atheists fall into their own blunt knives when they try to play their "no absolutes" card. They conveniently forget that they claim their own absolute truth. The logical fallacy of relativism all over again.

As far as stellar evolution goes, any guesstimate of the age of our solar system is based on a bunch of arbitrary assumptions.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (8) May 02, 2012
These are very interesting results!

They won't constrain core formation models much (cp "Chronometry of Meteorites and the Formation of the Earth and Moon", Kleine et al, Elements, 2011), but they definitely puts mantle differentiation times nicely against planet aggregation times. The paper is paywalled, but the supplement shows how Mars mantle differentiation times gets towards the lower end of the previous 8-25 million years. And we now know that Mars aggregated in a mere ~ 4 million years.
Deathclock
3.5 / 5 (11) May 02, 2012
Everytime atheists fall into their own blunt knives when they try to play their "no absolutes" card. They conveniently forget that they claim their own absolute truth.


There are absolute truths, we just can't know most of them.

You're also confusing a base level truth for a meta-truth. A base level truth would be something pertaining to physical reality, a meta-truth would be something referring to a concept. The truth that we cannot determine absolute truth is a meta-truth.

You know nothing about epistemology, and you are ignorant to your own ignorance.

As far as stellar evolution goes, any guesstimate of the age of our solar system is based on a bunch of arbitrary assumptions.


No, it is based on many independent lines of physical evidence, and a few necessary assumptions take as axiomatic because we really have no alternative. We don't know if reality is a giant illusion, so we assume it is not, what would you have us do instead?
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
4.9 / 5 (11) May 02, 2012
@ kevintrs:

"why is it that the age of the earth has been pegged at 4.5 billion years since about 1950? Why has there not been any improvement in the accuracy of that estimate?"

Because those several clocks are a) independent of this result b) _have_ been improved. When I read astrobiology last year, the estimate was ~ 4.565 +/- 1 million year IIRC. The ref I gave above has now 4567.2 ± 0.5 million years! The same value that the Sm paper uses btw.

As I commented above, the result for mantle diff. times, where this is used, hasn't changed all that much. It is a non-linear model.

@ okyesno: Are we discussing science or religious myths? I don't agree with the popular description that there are no absolutes in science, we have Noether's theorems, no-go theorems and everyday physics is completely known now. The better description is that we have remaining uncertainties and, certainly, errors. This is improving certainty, but the change was too little to have been a cause of error.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (8) May 02, 2012
@ okyesno: "As far as stellar evolution goes, any guesstimate of the age of our solar system is based on a bunch of arbitrary assumptions."

No, see my 1st comm ref. "Chondrites contain CaAl-rich inclusions (CAIs), whose composition is similar to that expected for the first refrac-
tory nebular condensates and whose age is the oldest known among materials formed within the Solar System. Consequently, CAIs are commonly used to defi ne the age of the Solar System, and the timing of all other events is
given in reference to the time of CAI formation (FIG. 1). While CAIs have been precisely dated using the UPb system (Bouvier and Wadhwa 2010), their exact age remains somewhat uncertain due to U isotope variations among CAIs (Brennecka et al. 2010). Nevertheless, a combined high-precision U and Pb isotope study of an Allende CAI provides an absolute age of 4567.2 ± 0.5
million years before present (Ma) (Amelin et al. 2010), an age that is consistent with those obtained from short-lived
okyesno
1.1 / 5 (7) May 02, 2012
Torbjorn,

Did you know that similar measuring methods of rocks that were formed in the 1970's yielded an age of hundreds of millions of years? This kind of information should at least make one reconsider these magically accurate measurements. The error margin you use is just off the charts, and as a chemist I know 0.5 million years on 4500 is unrealistically accurate by all accounts.

A host of assumptions goes into these measurements:

1. The initial composition of the rock
2. The presence of daughter elements
3. The constant rate of decay
4. Absence of pollution and other influences

We have connected "age" to the chemical compostion of a rock. This is a hypothesis. But all we are measuring is radioactive decay and we assume that current rates can be extrapolated backwards indefinately. It may be true, but requires all these assmuptions to be very finely tuned. And that requires some level of faith.
CHollman82
4.6 / 5 (9) May 02, 2012
okyesno's homepage is AnswersInGenesis... I've seen all these shit arguments on there.
okyesno
1 / 5 (8) May 02, 2012
Hollman,

That is aptly called the genetic fallacy. The place or time of origin of something does not determine if it is true or false.
aroc91
4 / 5 (4) May 02, 2012
Actually it's quite well-known now that a lot of scientists will ignore the very contradicting facts they've discovered in order to kowtow to the existing dogma. More so when the existing dogma relates to things that happened in the past - where no on can go to either verify or falsify the current religious dogma. Religious, because that's what it is when you have to take it all on faith in what some supposedly highly educated master mind has said. This kind of scientific worship has been documented time and time again.


Too obvious, kevin. Every post where you say something about science being dogmatic and religious chips away at your fundamentalist parody. I thought you were sincere at first, but you keep dropping these types of comments lately and it's waving a big red flag to me.
simplicio
4.6 / 5 (9) May 02, 2012
That is aptly called the genetic fallacy. The place or time of origin of something does not determine if it is true or false.

Maybe yes, but there are many sources of scientific information which make the bible genesis false, so genetic fallacy does not work here.
CHollman82
3.9 / 5 (11) May 03, 2012
Hollman,

That is aptly called the genetic fallacy. The place or time of origin of something does not determine if it is true or false.


All of the "information" on the AnswersInGenesis website is wrong... and all of it has been addressed by actual scientists, just look for it. But you don't look at both sides of the issue, you only read creationist garbage.
okyesno
1 / 5 (7) May 03, 2012
"But you don't look at both sides of the issue, you only read creationist garbage."

Yes I did. I gave you the chance to come up with some logical arguments, but you gave nothing. So far I am couting two fallacies and a whole bunch of frustration. Very rational indeed.
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (4) May 05, 2012
Always shills and apologists for "science".
Shabs42 claims, "isotopes with extremely long half-lifes [sic] are difficult to pin down exactly". That's is an utter falsehood, and likely just spun out of whole cloth as on-the-spot doggerel to defend the indefensible. To measure a half life all you need is a sample of well measured purity and mass and a measurement of decays. Since there are so many atoms in any macroscopic sample, even over a period as short as a year, there should be a more than adequate measure of half life. This invalidates dnatwork' presentation, as well. Uranium 238 has a half life of about 4.5 nillion years, but it hasn't been changed!
julianpenrod
1 / 5 (5) May 05, 2012
SteveL denounces any who would use this as a condemnation of "science". How quickly "science" devotees would pounce on religion if they changed their statements so regularly and ended up with a claim so completely erroneous.
And, for all the craven veiciousness of the ilk of Deathclock, among others, heralding the "superiority" of "science" for being willig to admit their mistakes and purportedly never holding themselves out as incomparably reliable, where, anywhere, in this article was it recommended that people take the new claims with a grain of salt? Again, they imply that, while the previous claim may have had errors, this result is absolutely and completely reliable!
SteveL
5 / 5 (6) May 06, 2012
SteveL denounces any who would use this as a condemnation of "science". How quickly "science" devotees would pounce on religion if they changed their statements so regularly and ended up with a claim so completely erroneous.
And, for all the craven veiciousness of the ilk of Deathclock, among others, heralding the "superiority" of "science" for being willig to admit their mistakes and purportedly never holding themselves out as incomparably reliable, where, anywhere, in this article was it recommended that people take the new claims with a grain of salt? Again, they imply that, while the previous claim may have had errors, this result is absolutely and completely reliable!

Actually, if "the Church" would admit to errors just like science does I'd respect religon more. The heaven and earth created in 6 days, rather than 6 eons, initially comes to mind. I have neither the ability nor the inclination to judge God, however I can judge that humanity and religon are defective.
fully attached
5 / 5 (4) May 06, 2012
only something like religion can detach humans from its directive. it has created embittering denial among a good percentage of the subscribers propagating thoughts poisonous to the future of human existence.
the best way should be used and followed until something better comes along. it is insanity to believe that older generations know better than what the younger generations can possibly discover.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (5) May 07, 2012
Actually, if "the Church" would admit to errors just like science does I'd respect religon more.

That's really their dilemma. The pope is the direct representative of god on earth - therefore if the pope is fallible god is fallible. So there can never be an admission of errors because that would bring the house of cards down. They can only ever admit to 'inexact interpretations' - and even that is highly dangerous for the power base of the church.

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