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Lava bursts from Hawaii’s Kilauea Iki crater


Lava gives insights into Earth’s ancient conditions.


Hawaii’s Kilauea Iki crater, 1959.
USGS / J.P. Eaton

A powerful surge of lava erupting from Hawaii’s Kilauea Iki crater uncovered rock samples that could date back to Earth’s birth.

Analysis of two rock samples from volcanic eruptions in Hawaii and Samoa by geologists from the University of Maryland have revealed unexpected geochemical anomalies indicative of conditions existing 4.5 billion years ago, just after the planet formed. These unusual signatures can be understood in terms of the ratios of key isotopes of the elements tungsten and helium.

The study published in Science observed unusually low levels of tungsten-182 and surprisingly high levels of helium-3, conditions suggestive of material from Earth’s core. Researchers don’t know how these primitive compositions survived for so long yet believe this discovery will open the doors to exciting future research.

Curated content from the editorial staff at Cosmos Magazine.
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