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Imagine That! -- "New Thermometer Tells All"

Imagine That!
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Imagine That! -- "New Thermometer Tells All"

Credit: NSF/Finger Lakes Productions International

Audio Transcript:

Ever heard of zircon? It's the basis for a new thermometer that tells us what the earth's temp was...over four billion years ago!!

Imagine That!

Sounds like a bizarre backwards discovery, doesn't it? Turns out, it's bringing up some surprising results.

Watson: "What's really exciting about the results that we've produced is that they are painting a picture that's quite different from this very violent, very hot molten outer earth situation that the pre-existing models were portraying."

That's researcher Bruce Watson, professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He's studying zircons, tiny crystals--some almost as old as the planet itself-four hundred million years older than the oldest known rocks on earth. So, what could this ancient gemstone possibly tell us? Well, with this new thermometer based on the titanium content of zircons, scientists have found evidence that environmental conditions on early earth were characterized by liquid-water oceans and continental crust similar to today's.

Less than a quarter of a millimeter in size, and embedded in rocks of all ages--including meteorites--these crystals give scientists rock hard evidence they never had before.

Who knows what other fascinating discoveries researchers might make from a simple little birthstone? I'm Eric Phillips.

"Imagine That!" covers projects funded by the U.S. government's National Science Foundation. Federally sponsored research -- brought to you by you! Learn more at

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