The Beagle 2 Mars lander was capable of performing radiometric date measurements of rocks using the analyses from two instruments in its payload: (i) the X-ray Spectrometer (XRS) and (ii) the Gas Analysis Package (GAP).
We have investigated the feasibility of in situ radiometric dating using the K-Ar technique employing flight-like versions of Beagle 2 instrumentation.
Mass spectrometers detect atoms of specific elements according to their atomic weights.
They, however, do not have the sensitivity to distinguish atomic isobars (atoms of different elements that have the same atomic weight, such as in the case of carbon 14 and nitrogen 14—the most common isotope of nitrogen).
There are two techniques in measuring radiocarbon in samples—through radiometric dating and by Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS).
The two techniques are used primarily in determining carbon 14 content of archaeological artifacts and geological samples.
Detectors at different angles of deflection then count the particles.
At the end of an AMS run, data gathered is not only the number of carbon 14 atoms in the sample but also the quantity of carbon 12 and carbon 13.
Ions from a cesium gun are then fired at the target wheel, producing negatively ionized carbon atoms.
These negatively ionized carbon atoms pass through focusing devices and an injection magnet before reaching the tandem accelerator where they are accelerated to the positive terminal by a voltage difference of two million volts.
There are two accelerator systems commonly used for radiocarbon dating through accelerator mass spectrometry.
One is the cyclotron, and the other is a tandem electrostatic accelerator.
Reference materials are also pressed on metal discs.