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Curiosity has succeeded in dating the age of one of its rock samples, the first time this has ever been done remotely on another planet.
The second rock Curiosity drilled for a sample on Mars, which scientists nicknamed “Cumberland,” is the first ever to be dated from an analysis of its mineral ingredients while it sits on another planet. A report by Kenneth Farley of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and co-authors, estimates the age of Cumberland at 3.86 billion to 4.56 billion years old. This is in the range of earlier estimates for rocks in Gale Crater, where Curiosity is working.
This is significant engineering and scientific news. In the past the only way to date the rocks on another world was to bring them back to Earth. This was how the moon’s geology was dated. On Mars, dating has only been done by crater counting, comparing those counts with those on the Moon, and then making a vague guess. To have the ability to date rocks remotely means that geologists can begin to sort out the timeline of Mars’s geology without having to bring back samples.