The journal Nature Geoscience recently published an article about the oldest piece of the Earth’s crust discovered to date. The big find was a 4.4 billion-year-old crystal unearthed on an Australian sheep ranch. To put this in perspective, if each person currently living on the Earth represented one year, the crystal would be younger.

The journal Nature Geoscience recently published an article about the oldest piece of the Earth’s crust discovered to date. The big find was a 4.4 billion-year-old crystal unearthed on an Australian sheep ranch. To put this in perspective, if each person currently living on the Earth represented one year, the crystal would be younger.


At first glance of this news, I thought maybe one of the sheep tripped over the crystal after lots of rain pushed it to the surface like a worm. I imagined the sheep munching on some grass and minding its own business. Suddenly, it caught a glimpse of a bright reflection nearby. Out of curiosity, the sheep wandered toward the shiny object.


Upon moving closer to the origin of the reflection, the sheep did not see anything. It decided to return to the sweet grass, but then it tripped over the crystal. Upon stubbing its hoof, it let out a sharp bleat. The shepherd ran out to check on his sheep. A 4.4 billion-year-old crystal was discovered.


Of course, that was not at all how it happened. The real crystal was only the size of a dust mite. A dust mite is really, really tiny. You need special magnifying glasses to see them. Crystals that small could be anywhere and we—the general public—would never know it.


A sheep would not see, nor trip over a dust-mite sized crystal. I cannot imagine the number of Hadean Eon crystals I’ve unknowingly beaten out of my pillows and rugs over the years. How many more great discoveries the size of dust mites might be out there?


Considering the number of dust mites in the world, there could be enough undiscovered stuff to keep every person currently living on Earth employed as new thing discoverers. Unfortunately, funding is currently lacking in that particular field.


The discovery makes it obvious I made a good choice in becoming a writer rather than a geologist. Left up to me, only large fossils would be discovered. Finding my keys, which are much bigger than dust mites, has always been a challenging task. And I cannot even begin to guestimate the cost of high-resolution magnifying bifocals.


The zircon crystal, albeit small, carried a whopper of a story. It provided scientists with evidence of the possibility of water existing on Earth much earlier than initially believed. The only conclusion one could rationally come to after such a discovery was that scientists were previously wrong about something.


Growing up in the late twentieth century was challenging. Our classrooms were typically stocked with textbooks printed years before we studied them. But science and technology were moving ahead so rapidly that our teachers often had to update us on the new facts.


My argument for not liking school was not, "When am I EVER going to use this stuff?" Rather, it was, "What’s the point in memorizing this? It’s going to change soon, anyway."


To put 1970s and ‘80s education in perspective, we did not have microwave ovens, computers, mobile phones, digital games, or Internet streaming when we were born. In school we had to learn how to spell Czechoslovakia as well as identify it on a map.


Today, every person currently living on Earth is within a few steps — if they hold their phones up toward the sky and wiggle their left toes — of some type of Internet or cellular access. Today, it is possible to keep up with the latest discoveries and innovations in geology, geography, and technology in real time.


According to the article, however, the fact that this newly discovered ancient crystal proved water existed before scientists originally thought means more. It suggests life could have existed on Earth 4.4 billion years ago. High school and college students who recently missed the answer to the question "How long ago did life exist on Earth?" can now go back and prove your teachers and professors wrong.


But don’t blame them. They were probably teaching from e-texts over a year old supplemented by websites that had not been updated in a few days.


While this was very exciting news for geologists and other scientists worldwide, I have to step away from education for a moment and wonder what this discovery will do to the diamond market. The crystal was reportedly red. Under the duress of being pummeled with electrons, it glowed blue. That is really cool, even if it cannot be seen well by the naked eye.


If I were a famous starlet and a handsome multi-billionaire asked for my hand in marriage, I would not want a cliché 10-carat diamond. Rather, I would want a multi-billion-year-old red zircon ring with a built-in electron blaster that could make it glow blue.


It would have to be much bigger than a dust-mite, however. The paparazzi cannot easily snap photos of dust-mite sized rocks.


———


Micki Bare is a columnist for the Arkansas News Bureau and the Courier-Tribune in Asheboro, N.C., and the author of Thurston T. Turtle children’s books. She and her family live in North Carolina. Her e-mail address is mickibare@gmail.com.