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Crater counting relies on the simple fact that planetary surfaces are repeatedly bombarded with objects that scar their surface with impact craters; a surface with many impact craters is presumed to be older than one with fewer craters.
Although this method is simple, it has large uncertainties."What surprising was that our result—from a technique that was implemented on Mars with little planning on Earth—got a number that is exactly what crater counting predicted," Farley says.
At the same time Arthur Holmes (above left) carried out pioneering studies on the application of radioactivity to dating rocks and his prescient realization of the importance of a quantified geologic timescale instigated the quantitative study of the stratigraphic record, which continues to this day (Gradstein et al. This convergence in 1913 of physics and geology marks the birth of isotope geochronology and while these centenaries deserve an auspicious marking, the current state of isotope geochronology also merits celebration.
This month we are holding a science meeting at The Geological Society entitled ‘’, where speakers (but not including Prof Iain Stewart!
Many of the experiments carried out by the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission's Curiosity rover were painstakingly planned by NASA scientists more than a decade ago. Keck Foundation Professor of Geochemistry and one of the 29 selected participating scientists, submitted a proposal that outlined a set of techniques similar to those already used for dating rocks on Earth, to determine the age of rocks on Mars.
Although researchers have determined the ages of rocks from other planetary bodies, the actual experiments—like analyzing meteorites and moon rocks—have always been done on Earth.
Now, for the first time, researchers have successfully determined the age of a Martian rock—with experiments performed on Mars.
Geochronology informs our understanding of plate tectonic processes, their influence on the development of topography, and in turn the climate system.
The integration of disparate geologic records via absolute dating illuminates the connections and feedbacks among the biological, climatic and tectonic components of the coupled Earth system, such as those exemplified during the Neoproterozoic era when .
However, shortly before the rover left Earth in 2011, NASA's participating scientist program asked researchers from all over the world to submit new ideas for experiments that could be performed with the MSL's already-designed instruments. Findings from the first such experiment on the Red Planet—published by Farley and coworkers this week in a collection of Curiosity papers in the journal —provide the first age determinations performed on another planet.