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December 1 2012

60-Million-Year Debate on Grand Canyon's Age


How old is the Grand Canyon? Old enough to be gazed on by dinosaurs, which died out 65 million years ago, or closer to six million years old, formed about when the earliest human ancestors began walking upright?

A bitter controversy among geologists over this question edged into the open on Thursday, when a report published in the journal Science offered new support for the old-canyon hypothesis, which is not the prevailing one. In the report, Rebecca M. Flowers of the University of Colorado and Kenneth A. Farley of the California Institute of Technology used an improved dating technique based on the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium atoms into helium atoms in a mineral known as apatite. They said this yielded a thermal record of these rocks under the canyon floor, hot at great depths but cooler the closer they were to the surface.

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