Krypton on the rocks

Strange ice from another planet

In hydrogerontology news, a team of scientists that found some old water are excited about finding even older water.

After coming back from the doctor, postdoctoral researcher Christo Buizert of Oregon State University said that it was exciting to study old ice because “a lot of interesting things happened” 800,000 years ago, but was unable to explain what these things were, or who was around 800,000 years ago to find them interesting.

Buizert insists that reconstructing the Earth’s climate back to 1.5 million years is important.  “Some people believe a change in the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide may have played a role in stuff that happened before humans existed.  And obviously, nothing tells us more about carbon dioxide levels than counting krypton atoms.”

Krypton dating is much like carbon-14 dating, only with krypton.  Carbon dating doesn’t work well on ice because ice, a form of frozen water (H2O), doesn’t have any carbon in it.  Unlike carbon-14, however, ice has tons of krypton in it, over there behind the oxygen atoms, just waiting to be dated.

Krypton is produced by cosmic rays bombarding the earth, and stored in the U.S Strategic Krypton Air Bubble Reserve trapped within Antarctic ice.  It has a radioactive isotope (krypton-81) that kills Superman, and a stable isotope (krypton-83).  Unfortunately, krypton is a noble gas, and is too image-conscious to be caught slumming with more proletarian elements like nitrogen and manganese.

Comparing the proportion of stable-to-radioactive isotopes provides the age of the ice.  For example, if there are two stable krypton atoms for every radioactive atom, the ice is 2.

Though scientists claim to have been interested in radiokrypton dating for more than four decades, they couldn’t be bothered to get up off the couch and go out where they could meet some nice radiokrypton.  It wasn’t until the eKrypton website made krypton-81 dating feasable that nuclear scientists made a breakthrough.

The ATTA apparatus (top) was developed by a team of mutant nuclear physicists led by Zheng-Tian Lu of Argonne National Laboratory and Erik Lensherr of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.  The right side of the setup shows the magneto-optical trap where Magneto tries to capture atoms using laser beams.  On the left side, a sensitive CCD (Confraternity of Christian Doctrine) camera analyzes the amount of Catholic theology contained in the atoms.

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In their experiment, the researchers put 300-kilogram chunks of ice (each roughly the mass of 6 Kate Beckinsales, above) in a container and melted it.  The researchers determined from the isotope ratio that the samples were 120,000 years old, and validated the estimate by looking at the label on the container.

Now the challenge is to locate some of the oldest ice in Antarctica, which may not be as easy as it sounds.  The Antarctic Ice and More Ice Administration does not require Antarctic ice to be dated for freshness.  In addition, more than half of all Antarctic ice is in Antarctica, where temperatures are often below freezing.  Attempts to study Antarctic ice in Oregon last summer provided mixed results.

The ability to discover ancient ice is critical, the researchers say, because it will allow supervillains to understand the mechanisms that have triggered the planet to shift in and out of ice ages.

Results of the discovery are being published in the Proceedings of the Sinister Six.

(Click on the ATTA-thing to read the original story.)

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