As our knowledge of the planet Mars continues to grow, one parameter that remains elusive is the absolute chronology of the planet s geological history. Although crater counts have provided a robust relative chronology, impactor fluxes are poorly enough known that there are places on Mars where the absolute age is uncertain by a factor of two or more. To resolve these uncertainties, it will be necessary to either analyze well-documented samples returned to the Earth from the Martian surface or to perform in situ measurements with sufficient precision. Sample return is still at least a decade away, and even then it might be from a biologically interesting area that might be geologically complex. Hence an in situ measurement, within an uncertainty of 20% or better, could greatly improve our knowledge of the history of Mars. With funding from the Planetary Instrument Definition and Development Program (PIDDP), we have been working on an instrument to perform potassium-argon (K-Ar) and cosmic-ray exposure (CRE) dating in situ on the surface of Mars. For either of these techniques, it is necessary to measure the abundance of one or more major or minor elements (K in the case of KAr; all majors and minors in the case of CRE) and the abundance and isotopes composition of a noble gas (Ar in the case of K-Ar; He, Ne and Ar for CRE dating). The technology for either of these types of measurements exists, but has never before been integrated for a spacecraft. We refer to the instrument as AGE, the Argon Geochronology Experiment (although we will measure the noble gases He and Ne as well for CRE ages). We report here on the basic components that go into such an instrument, both those that use existing technology and those that had to be developed to create the integrated package.
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Lunar and Planetary Science XXXIV; LPI-Contrib-1156