back to article Scientists are counting atoms to figure out when Mars last had volcanoes

Astroboffins have figured out a new way of dating planets and meteorites by counting individual atoms in rock samples snatched from the depths of space. The atomic-scale imaging technique developed by University of Portsmouth scientists involves locating and counting individual atoms in planetary materials. "Directly linking …

  1. 2460 Something

    Soon now...

    So, now all we need is a industrial scale deep space meteorite mining operation to get a decent collection sample size. I've always wanted to be space trucker :)

    1. graeme leggett

      Re: Soon now...

      Cue Deep Purple.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Soon now...

        "Cue Deep Purple."

        It was Deep Purple? Wow!

        <earworm alert>

        SPAAAAAACE Truckin...across the Universe,

        Boldly going forwards... 'cos we can't find reverse

        1. IT Poser

          Re: Soon now...

          John Brown,

          If I had used Deep Purple's Space Truckin' as a cover to disguise my posting lyrics from the song that shall not be named I would have to grab my coat as well.

  2. Mike Richards

    We need to get this thing's ass to Mars

    There are flows in Tharsis where crater-counting and the apparent lack of erosion suggest eruptions within the last few million years. If this is the case, Mars is warmer inside than we think and that means there's a greater chance of hydrothermal fluids bringing the goodies needed for life to the surface.

    E. Hauber, P. Brož, F. Jagert, P. Jodłowski and T. Platz (17 May 2011). "Very recent and wide-spread basaltic volcanism on Mars". Geophysical Research Letters. 38 (10). Bibcode:2011GeoRL..3810201H. doi:10.1029/2011GL047310.

    (It's a page turner and I won't spoil the ending)

    1. Your alien overlord - fear me

      Re: We need to get this thing's ass to Mars

      (It's a page turner and I won't spoil the ending) - no, please do.

      1. DNTP

        Re: please do

        Scientific papers automatically come with spoilers, they are called abstracts. Some of them even have an even shorter spoiler before the abstract called a summary. This is because scientists are all huge geeks who actually secretly read spoilers on everything and then run around going "no spoilers! don't ruin it for me!"

        1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: please do

          Some publications even use the title for spoilers. Nasty!

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: please do

          "Some of them even have an even shorter spoiler before the abstract called a summary."

          And an even shorter one called the title.

          1. DropBear Silver badge

            Re: please do

            "And an even shorter one called the title."

            Don't be silly, the title is barely a teaser...

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Ingenious. It's a way to do "Carbon dating" at the scale of a grain of sand.

    Well technically it's the Uranium to Pb ratio, which changes predictably over time as the U turns into Pb.

    And of course no trees required. Neat.

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Ingenious. It's a way to do "Carbon dating" at the scale of a grain of sand.

      Well "technically" it's:

      Uranium 238 to Thorium 234 to Protactinium 234 to Uranium 234 to Thorium 230 to Radium 226 to Radon 222 to Polonium 218 to Lead 214.

      not finished, Lead 214 is radioactive.

      Then to Bismuth 214 to Polonium 214 to Lead 210 to Bismuth 210 to Polonium 210 and finally to the stable Lead 206.

      There are different chains if you start with Uranium 233 or 235

      1. Faux Science Slayer

        Radioactive decay is a function of variable particle bombardments.....

        It is huberous to assume terrestrial based, constant decay rates, every proxy is questionable....

        "New! Amazing! Wrongco Proxy Crock!" at CanadaFreePress.com > Nov 2010

  4. G R Goslin

    Is this for real?

    leaving aside the obvious detail, that Mars, in Olympus Mons, still has an active volcano, I don't see how this can produce a significant sample. Statistics, in dating rely on the enormous sample size to eliminate errors, and a significant loss of one or more of the decay series to indicate a start date. Counting atoms one by one does not seem to me to be a viable route to a large sample size

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: Is this for real?

      Mars, in Olympus Mons, still has an active volcano

      Please cite references, I always understood OM was either dormant or dead with no eruptions for several million years (evidence from impact craters on the slopes).

      Mars has no plate tectonics and a relatively cool core so significant seismic activity is considered very improbable.

      When they count atoms the numbers are quite huge, for example 1 nanogram of Uranium has 2.5 x10^12 atoms so I wouldn't worry too much about small samples.

      1. JCitizen
        Black Helicopters

        #DJO

        Plus, I'd imagine that a cool or solid core in Mars is why there is no magnetosphere left.

        1. Mike Richards

          Re: #DJO

          It just has to be below the melting point of iron/nickel (with a pinch of sulfur to taste) under god-almighty pressure to kill the magnetic field. That could mean there is enough heat coming up through the Mantle to allow partial melting and volcanism. But without knowing how much heat is radiating out and how much water is slopping round in the Mantle, its very hard to work out just how much melting could take place.

          NASA's next lander, InSight which will fly in 2018 is equipped with a drill and heat flow probe which will give us some idea of the former. It'll also have a seismometer which might mean we can get a glimpse of the planet's interior structure and its state - provided we are lucky enough to either experience a big 'quake or something from the asteroid belt the size of a large house decides to become friends with the Martian surface.

  5. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Dr Eccles Four million three hundred thousand and five, Four million three hundred thousand and six,

    Lab Technician Bluebottle Eccles, would you like a cup of tea?

    Dr Eccles Oh yeah! Nuthin' like a good cup of tea.

    Lab Technician Bluebottle No, nothing like a good cup of tea.

    Dr Eccles Slurrp! Nuthin' like a good cup of tea.

    Lab Technician Bluebottle No, nothing like a good cup of tea.

    Dr Eccles Nuthin' like a good cup of tea. Four million three hundred thousand and ... ooh!

    One, two, three, ...

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019