New Fascinating Theory Emerges on How the Earth’s Continents Actually Formed

What caused the once massive Pangea supercontinent to break apart into the continents we have today? The answer is hiding in the most unusual place: the zircon crystals in the Pilbara Craton, Australia.

It is a well-known belief in science that there was once a supercontinent that scientists call Pangaea. According to continental drift theory, this supercontinent broke into the multiple continents that we have today. The continents, according to NASA, are still moving. 

Do you ever wonder why the Earth’s tectonic plates moved to form the continents we have today? Dr. Johnson may have the answer to that.

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Earth’s tectonic plates

A recent article by Curtin University featured on discusses the views of Dr. Johnson, a member of Curtin’s flagship earth sciences research institute and The Institute for Geoscience Research (TIGeR).


Dr. Johnson and his research team have been examining tiny crystals of the mineral zircon in rocks from the Pilbara Craton in Western Australia. Dr. Johnson believes this location and its minerals represent Earth’s best-preserved remnant of ancient crust.

Continents Formed Due to Asteroid Collision

The idea that continents formed at the sites of massive meteorite impacts have been around for decades. However, there was little solid evidence to back up the theory until now. Meteorite impacts on the Earth were especially common during the first billion years of our planet’s four-and-a-half-billion-year history.

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Continents formation by USGS

The research published in Nature on August 10, 2022, presents the most substantial evidence that giant meteorite impacts formed Earth’s continents. 


Why were zircon crystals relevant to the research?

Johnson’s team studied the oxygen isotope composition of these zircon crystals, which Johnson stated showed a “top-down” process that started with the melting of rocks near the surface and moved deeper, which is consistent with the geological effects of large meteorite impacts.

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Crystals of zircon by Parent Géry under CC BY-SA 3.0

Dr. Johnson believes that the analysis of the zircon crystals is the first solid proof that the processes that eventually made the continents started with giant meteorite hits like the ones that killed off the dinosaurs but occurred billions of years earlier.

Why is the research necessary?

Dr. Johnson thinks it’s essential to understand how the Earth’s continents formed and are still changing because they hold most of the planet’s living things, its people, and almost all its essential mineral deposits.


The continents are home to essential metals like lithium, tin, and nickel, which are needed for the new green technologies we need to meet our responsibility to fight climate change.

Dr. Johnson claims that these mineral deposits result from a process called crustal differentiation, which started when the Pilbara Craton and other early landmasses formed.

Next steps to prove the research

Meteorites are a constant source of fascination. Some researchers even believe that life on Earth was started by meteorites, while other experts prepare the technology to save us from the next planet-killing meteorite


Dr. Johnson’s research now adds another facet to our understanding of the role of meteorites in our history and the forming of continents.

Dr. Johnson thinks that data from other parts of the old continental crust of the Earth seem to show patterns that are similar to those seen in Western Australia. He would like to test his ideas on more old rocks to see if his team’s model is more widely applicable.