Dating moon rocks accurately with new design mass spectrometer

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  • Published: Jul 22, 2015
  • Author: Steve Down
  • Channels: Base Peak
thumbnail image: Dating moon rocks accurately with new design mass spectrometer

A new laser mass spectrometer designed as a space prototype has been used to date an earthbound rock which is regarded as an analogue of basalts on the Moon, setting the stage for dating of approximately 32% of the nearside of the lunar surface in situ.

Demonstrated earlier in 2015 on a Martian meteorite, the laser ablation resonance ionisation mass spectrometer was used to measure the relative abundances of the 87Rb-87Sr isotopes of a sample of Duluth Gabbro, a recognised lunar analogue that is present on Earth. The process was described in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry. The laser ionisation processes of each element were staggered to reduce interferences between them and allow a more accurate result of 1100 ± 2 Ma. This value was consistent with that derived by thermal ionisation mass spectrometry.

This opens up the possibility of sending a miniaturised version of the instrument to the Moon in a future mission to perform surface analysis. Indeed, the research team have since designed one that would fit on a lander vehicle.

They have also contacted the NASA Discovery Program with proposals for a new a lunar mission called MARE: The Moon and Age Regolith Explorer. They see it revealing much more about the impact history of the solar system.

"We can see cratered terrains on the Moon whose ages, we do not know within a billion years,"” said F. Scott Anderson, senior reporter from the University of Washington. "So filling this gap in our understanding of the Moon will help us correct or re-write the history of volcanism, planetary evolution, water and life in the solar system."

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