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Historical Geology/Cosmogenic surface dating
How do we know the age of the surfaces we see on planets and moons? If a world has a surface as opposed to being mostly gas and liquid , astronomers have developed some techniques for estimating how long ago that surface solidified. Note that the age of these surfaces is not necessarily the age of the planet as a whole. On geologically active objects including Earth , vast outpourings of molten rock or the erosive effects of water and ice, which we call planet weathering, have erased evidence of earlier epochs and present us with only a relatively young surface for investigation. One way to estimate the age of a surface is by counting the number of impact craters. This technique works because the rate at which impacts have occurred in the solar system has been roughly constant for several billion years. Thus, in the absence of forces to eliminate craters, the number of craters is simply proportional to the length of time the surface has been exposed. This technique has been applied successfully to many solid planets and moons Figure 1. Figure 1. Bear in mind that crater counts can tell us only the time since the surface experienced a major change that could modify or erase preexisting craters.
Unlike other dating methods, which tell us how long it is since a rock was formed, cosmogenic surface dating tells us how long a rock has been exposed on the surface. In some cases, as when the rock is a lava flow , this amounts to the same thing.
Determining the age of surfaces on Mars
Surface exposure dating is a collection of geochronological techniques for estimating the length of time that a rock has been exposed at or near Earth's surface. Surface exposure dating is used to date glacial advances and retreats , erosion history, lava flows, meteorite impacts, rock slides, fault scarps , cave development, and other geological events. It is most useful for rocks which have been exposed for between 10 years and 30,, years [ citation needed ].