Space Engineers Develop New Spectrometer to Determine Age of Rocks on Moon

The lunar farside as never seen before! LROC WAC orthographic projection centered at 180° longitude, 0° latitude. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

The lunar farside as never seen before! LROC WAC orthographic projection centered at 180° longitude, 0° latitude. Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

After successfully using Raman Spectroscopy to find life on Australian ancient rocks and vying to find similar traces of alien life on Mars, astro-engineers are now developing new instruments to measure the age of rocks on the Moon and other planets based on laser ablation resonance ionisation mass spectrometry.

Currently, several techniques used to measure the age are not practical in spaceflight as they require sophisticated sample preparation, said a team led by Dr F Scott Anderson from Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado, US.

The space engineers have successfully tested the emthod to determine the date of an Earth rock called the Duluth Gabbro, which is similar to the rocks that cover one-third of the Moon. They are hoping that with the new method, they can record many solar system events and date the age of rocks on its visible side to the earth.

“We can see cratered terrains on the Moon whose ages we don’t know within a billion years,” said Anderson. “Ages of lunar terrains are the linchpin for understanding the sequence of planetary-scale events from Mercury to Mars, 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,” he said.

Dating the Duluth Gabbro was a major challenge the scientists have encountered requiring 30 times more accuracy and sophistication than a similar exercise undertaken to date the Martian meteorite Zagami earlier, said Dr Jonathan Levine from the Department of Physics and Astronomy, Colgate University, Hamilton, New York, who is a co-author of the porject.

“We are now continuing to analyse planetary samples of increasing complexity,” he said. Their findings have been published in the journal Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry.

Earlier, scientist Alison Olcott Marshall at the University of Kansas said using gas chromatography/mass spectroscopy along with Raman spectroscopy, they can find traces of ancient life on Mars.

Craig Marshall, her husband and co-scientist and an expert of Raman spectroscopy used to look for carbonaceous materials, and Alison Olcott Marshall, a paleontologist studying preserved life on Earth without fossil findings, have recently made it to the news ruling out the idea that 3.5 billion-year-old specks found in rocks in Australia were the oldest examples of life on Earth.

They proved that these are not ancient bacteria fossils, but were nothing more than tiny gaps in the rock that are packed with minerals. In their recent paper in peer-reviewed Philosophical Transaction of the Royal Society, they said Raman spectroscopy is able to screen for carbonaceous material, but it can’t determine its source, hence they argued for the technology that is required to determine beyond doubt if life exists on Mars or not.

“Raman spectroscopy works by impinging a laser on a sample so the molecules within that sample vibrate at diagnostic frequencies,” Craig Marshall said. “Measuring those frequencies allows the identification of inorganic and organic materials. It’s insufficient because however the carbonaceous material is made, it will be the same chemically and structurally, and thus Raman spectroscopy cannot determine the origin.”


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