Daniel Stolper introducing a sample of methane into the mass spectrometer. (Credit: Caltech)
A team led by California Institute of Technology researchers has developed a geothermometer capable of determining the formative temperature of natural methane samples, providing insight into where and how a particular sample formed, a Caltech press release.
The team worked with Thermo Fisher to design a new mass spectrometer that can measure the abundance of certain rare methane isotopes. These isotopes tend to clump together, creating strong bonds at low temperatures and weaker bonds at high temperatures. By measuring the isotope clumps in a sample, the temperature at which it formed can be determined.
Methane is a unique gas in that once it forms and becomes stable, it does not “reset,” acting as a fossil of its formative environment. The research team has studied methane to learn about the body temperatures of dinosaurs and ancient Mars’ surface temperature.
Image: Daniel Stolper introducing a sample of methane into the mass spectrometer. (Credit: Caltech)