Southwest Research Institute scientists have increased the speed and accuracy of a laboratory-scale instrument for determining the age of planetary specimens onsite. CODEX will be a little larger than a microwave and include seven lasers and a mass spectrometer. In situ measurements will address fundamental questions of solar system history, such as when Mars was potentially habitable. Then the other CODEX lasers selectively pick out and quantify the abundance of trace amounts of radioactive rubidium Rb and strontium Sr. An isotope of Rb decays into Sr over known amounts of time, so by measuring both Rb and Sr, we can determine how much time has passed since the rock formed. While radioactivity is a standard technique for dating samples on Earth, few other places in the solar system have been dated this way.
While radioactivity is a standard technique for dating samples on Earth, few other places in the solar system have been dated this way.
Instead, scientists have largely constrained the chronology of the inner solar system by counting impact craters on planetary surfaces. It's undoubtedly true.
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But as with the falling rain, we don't really know the rate at which meteorites have fallen from the sky. That's why radioisotope dating is so important.
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Radioactive decay is a clock that ticks at a known rate. These techniques accurately determine the ages of rocks and minerals, allowing scientists to date events such as crystallization, metamorphism and impacts.
This precision was largely accomplished by modifying the sample's distance from the instrument to improve the data quality. The instrument also includes an ultrafast pulsed laser and improved signal-to-noise ratios to better constrain the timing of events in solar system history.
These lasers have a repetition rate of 10 kHz, which will allow the instrument to acquire data times faster than the current engineering design. The CODEX mass spectrometer, power supplies and timing electronics are already small enough for spaceflight. Instrument components are being enhanced to improve ruggedness, thermal stability, radiation resistance and power efficiency to endure launch and extended autonomous operations in alien environments.
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Radiometric dating takes advantage of the fact that the composition of certain minerals (rocks, fossils and other highly durable objects) changes over time. Specifically, the relative amounts of their constituent elements shift in a mathematically predictable way thanks to . Jun 29, More information: F. Scott Anderson et al, Dating a Martian meteorite with 20 Myr precision using a prototype in-situ dating instrument, Planetary and Space Science . DOI: /teknoderas.com
June 29, SwRI is designing the CODEX instrument to use radioisotope dating techniques in situ to determine the age of rocks on other planets or moons. More information: F. Scott Anderson et al, Dating a Martian meteorite with 20 Myr precision using a prototype in-situ dating instrument, Planetary and Space Science DOI: Provided by Southwest Research Institute.
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Jul 11, Radioactive isotopes obey this principle, and they have wildly different decay rates. The utility of this lies in being able to calculate with ease how much of a given element was present at the time it was formed based on how much is present at the time of measurement. This is because when radioactive elements first come into being, they are presumed to consist entirely of a single isotope. As radioactive decay occurs over time, more and more of this most common isotope "decays" i.
Imagine that you enjoy a certain kind of ice cream flavored with chocolate chips. You have a sneaky, but not especially clever, roommate who doesn't like the ice cream itself, but cannot resist picking out eating the chips - and in an effort to avoid detection, he replaces each one he consumes with a raisin.
He is afraid to do this with all of the chocolate chips, so instead, each day, he swipes half of the number of remaining chocolate chips and puts raisins in their place, never quite completing his diabolical transformation of your dessert, but getting closer and closer. Say a second friend who is aware of this arrangement visits and notices that your carton of ice cream contains 70 raisins and 10 chocolate chips.
She declares, "I guess you went shopping about three days ago.
Because your roommate eats half of the chips on any given day, and not a fixed number, the carton must have held 20 chips the day before, 40 the day before that, and 80 the day before that. Calculations involving radioactive isotopes are more formal but follow the same basic principle: If you know the half-life of the radioactive element and can measure how much of each isotope is present, you can figure out the age of the fossil, rock or other entity it comes from. Elements that have half-lives are said to obey a first-order decay process.
They have what is known as a rate constant, usually denoted by k. The relationship between the number of atoms present at the start N 0the number present at the time of measurement N the elapsed time t, and the rate constant k can be written in two mathematically equivalent ways:.
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In addition, you may wish to know the activity A of a sample, typically measured in disintegrations per second or dps. This is expressed simply as:. You don't need to know how these equations are derived, but you should be prepared to use them so solve problems involving radioactive isotopes. Scientists interested in figuring out the age of a fossil or rock analyze a sample to determine the ratio of a given radioactive element's daughter isotope or isotopes to its parent isotope in that sample.
With the element's decay rate, and hence its half-life, known in advance, calculating its age is straightforward.
The trick is knowing which of the various common radioactive isotopes to look for. This in turn depends in the approximate expected age of the object because radioactive elements decay at enormously different rates. Also, not all objects to be dated will have each of the elements commonly used; you can only date items with a given dating technique if they include the needed compound or compounds.
Uranium-lead U-Pb dating: Radioactive uranium comes in two forms, uranium and uranium The number refers to the number of protons plus neutrons. Uranium's atomic number is 92, corresponding to its number of protons. The half-life of uranium is 4. Because these differ by a factor of almost seven recall that a billion is 1, times a millionit proves a "check" to make sure you're calculating the age of the rock or fossil properly, making this among the most precise radiometric dating methods.
The long half-lives make this dating technique suitable for especially old materials, from about 1 million to 4. U-Pb dating is complex because of the two isotopes in play, but this property is also what makes it so precise.
The method is also technically challenging because lead can "leak" out of many types of rocks, sometimes making the calculations difficult or impossible.
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U-Pb dating is often used to date igneous volcanic rocks, which can be hard to do because of the lack of fossils; metamorphic rocks; and very old rocks.
All of these are hard to date with the other methods described here.
Rubidium-strontium Rb-Sr dating: Radioactive rubidium decays into strontium with a half -life of Not surprisingly, Ru-Sr dating is used to date very old rocks as old as the Earth, in fact, since the Earth is "only" around 4. Strontium exists in other stable i. But because rubidium is abundant in the Earth's crust, the concentration of strontium is much higher than that of the other isotopes of strontium. Scientists can then compare the ratio of the strontium to the total amount of stable strontium isotopes to calculate the level of decay that produces the detected concentration of strontium This technique is often used to date igneous rocks and very old rocks.
Potassium-argon K-Ar dating: The radioactive potassium isotope is K, which decays into both calcium Ca and argon Ar in a ratio of Argon is a noble gas, which means that it is nonreactive and would not be a part of the initial formation of any rocks or fossils.