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Scientists Just Made a Big Discovery About the Earth's Crust
The tectonic plate theory is widely accepted, but what has remained a topic of hot debate is when exactly the movement of these gigantic plates first began, transforming Earth from a sphere of rocks and lava into the habitable planet that it is today. New research indicates the movements first began roughly 3.8 billion years ago.
Analysis of zircon crystals — nearly indestructible crystals that are known to last billions of years and serve as a sort of geological time capsule — suggests that the rate of crystal formation picked up pace roughly 3.8 billion years ago. The zircons had geochemistry similar to crystals formed in areas of tectonic plate collision known as subduction zones.
Even though scientists are unsure whether subduction zones existed 3.8 billion years ago, the chemistry of crust material is a clear sign that tectonic plate movement happened in some form. Furthermore, the study found signatures of a "protocrust" that is said to have formed as a result of the first tectonic plate movement on Earth.