When the astronauts of Apollo 14 returned from the moon more than 45 years ago, they brought back nearly 100 pounds of rocks and soil from the lunar surface — and an answer to a cosmic puzzle.

The astronauts, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell and Stuart Roosa, all have died now, but their cargo reveals a fresh story of the moon’s birth from the early time when Earth and our solar system were new.

That story is told in eight tiny fragments of zircon, a gem-like mineral retrieved from those priceless moon rocks, fragments so small that their weight is measured in micrograms — in billionths of an ounce.

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