Washington, Dec 14 (): For the first time, scientists have determined successfully the age of a Martian rock through experiments being carried out on the Red Planet.
The experiment conducted by scientists under the leadership of geochemist Ken Farley of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has determined the age of the rock to be about 3.86 to 4.56 billion years old. The study will not only help in understanding the geologic history of Mars but also aid in the search for evidence of ancient life on the planet.
In March, holes were drilled by Mars rover Curiosity into the mudstone of Yellowknife Bay, an area of bedrock in Gale Crater about 500 meters from the landing site of the rover. Powdered rock samples were collected by the rover from two locations and the robotic arm of the Curiosity delivered the rock powder to the Sample Analysis on Mars (SAM) instrument.
This tool can perform a variety of chemical analyses, including rock dating techniques. Farley and team heated the sample to high temperatures so that the gases within the rock could be released and could be analysed by an on-board mass spectrometer.
Finally, it was found the age of the mudstone was about 3.86 to 4.56 billion years old. However, there is some doubt in the measurement. One reason for this uncertainty is that mudstone is a sedimentary rock, which means that it is formed in layers over a span of millions of years from material that eroded off the crater walls. This means that the sample really represents the combined age of those bits and pieces.
The findings also reveal further more about the rocks of Mars. It shows the scientists can know more about certain areas through such experiments. The information could also be important for researchers who are looking for evidence of past life on Mars.