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In situ rock dating great promise for field geology

31.07.2012, Age: 3334 days

A portable geochronometer is being developed that may be included in future missions to Mars. It allows the dating of rocks on site, without the necessity to fly them back to Earth for processing in a geochronology lab. This new machine may revolutionise geological fieldwork on Earth as well.

Scott Anderson, a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, and his team developed a portable, in situ chronometer that measures the relative abundances of rubidium-87 and strontium-87 in a rock sample. The instrument uses three miniature lasers to vaporise and then ionise atoms of rubidium and strontium, which are analysed in a small mass spectrometer. The Boulder team is now building a device that is small and light enough to be taken on a mission to other planets and space objects.

This new tool not only helps to make space research more cost effective, but has great promises for applications in geology and archaeology, particularly if it can be adapted for other isotopes.

Eric Hand. Planetary science: The time machine. Nature News, 25 July 2012. article>>

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