How to date on Mars




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1. Introduction 

Mars is interesting as a potential habitation site in the future because of the presence of volatiles such as CO2 and H2O on the planet. These can supply water, oxygen and fuel, but our ability to plan settlements on Mars depends on our understanding of the long term behaviour of these volatile reservoirs. The clue lies in the sand. Sand movement on Mars is sensitive to atmospheric density, which in turn is modulated by cyclic release or absorption of CO2 and H2O from Martian ice caps (and soil) during hot or cold climates, respectively. Currently, Martian climate-landscape interaction models predict where and when the volatiles (CO2 and H2O) will or will not be absorbed; however, there is no experimental validation of such models. If it were possible to date the episodes of sand formation, then one can directly assess the reliability of such models. Just like on Earth, such a validation can be obtained using in-situ dating of the Martian landscape (obtaining the time when it formed).

 2. The project 

This project is about enabling the necessary transfer of luminescence dating technology to Martian conditions. The aim of the project is to give basic insights into the luminescence and dosimetric behaviour of a whole new class of hitherto poorly studied natural dosimeters. State of the art experiments based on photoluminescence and optically stimulated luminescence will be carried out to study the optical behaviour of Martian analogue samples. The focus will be to understand signal stability, luminescence lifetimes (for signal separation), and the effect of low temperature and deep UV radiations on Mars using the newly discovered IRPL signal (

Experiments will mainly be performed on Risø TL OSL readers and COLUR (station for Cryogenic luminescence research) at DTU Nutech.

 The results of this project will provide important new knowledge in luminescence/solid state physics. The activity has important spinoffs in terms of developing methods for luminescence dating on Earth, by enabling sediment dating in Martian-like volcanic sediments that cover large areas of the Earth (e.g. basalt provinces etc.). This work complements European Space Agency’s activity on the development of a miniaturised instrument for in-situ sediment dating on Mars (21506/08/NL/IA); this is an important step towards allowing future Mars landers to directly date sand deposits using robots.

 3. Learning objectives

 At the end of the project you will be able to:

  • Describe the luminescence dating technique and the effect of ionising radiation on wide bandgap materials.

  • Understand and describe the photonic techniques involved in dosimetry: optically stimulated luminescence, photoluminescence, low temperature pump-probe measurements, time resolved luminescence techniques, etc.

  • Determine the OSL age of a sand sample.

  • Demonstrate the use of the relevant scientific instruments and data analysis techniques.

  • Write a scientific report, potentially a journal article.

(Picture Credits: NASA)


curious mind; inclination to do experiments; an interest in solid state physics/photonics will be helpful

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DTU Nutech


Mayank Jain





Kandidatuddannelsen i Fysik og Nanoteknologi


Mayank Jain





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DTU er et teknisk eliteuniversitet med international rækkevidde og standard. Vores mission er at udvikle og nyttiggøre naturvidenskab og teknisk videnskab til gavn for samfundet. 10.000 studerende uddanner sig her til fremtiden, og 5.700 medarbejdere har hver dag fokus på uddannelse, forskning, myndighedsrådgivning og innovation, som bidrager til øget vækst og velfærd.

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