Bedtime stories from space - Cosmogenic nuclides investigated by accelerator mass spectrometry

Bedtime stories from space - Cosmogenic nuclides investigated by accelerator mass spectrometry

Merchel, S.; Rugel, G.; Wallner, A.; DREAMS-Friends/Users

High-energy particles as part of the cosmic ray spectrum are constantly bombarding Earth and induce nuclear reactions in the atmosphere and the Earth’s surface. The reaction products can be determined by sophisticated analytical methods such as mass spectrometry (noble gases), radioactivity counting (short-lived radionuclides) or accelerator mass spectrometry (long-lived radionuclides). Their concentrations allow us to date and quantify geomorphological processes like Earth quakes, rock avalanches, glacier movements, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and meteoroid impacts, which have happened hundred to million years ago. Combined with stable isotope data, we can reconstruct the Sun’s activity, the Earth’s magnetic field and temperature of the past.

Additionally, meteorites found on Earth also contain the same nuclear reaction products induced mainly by the galactic cosmic radiation but at much higher concentrations as they have not been shielded by the Earth’s atmosphere and magnetic field while irradiated. These data provide information about the exposure history of the individual meteorite and the cosmic radiation itself.

Last but not least, terrestrial archives from the deep-sea or from remote areas like Antarctica contain traces of cosmic events like supernovae explosions or stellar collisions. Identifying those long-lived radionuclides, produced not only long-time ago but also at a far-distance in the interstellar space, gives hints about these amazing astrophysical events.

For many of these interdisciplinary research areas accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) being able to determine long-lived radionuclides at the ultra-trace level, i.e. isotopic ratios (radioactive/stable) as low as 10-16, is nowadays the analytical method-of-choice. Thus, DREsden AMS (DREAMS) and other European AMS facilities offer external users free measurements via a Trans-National-Access proposal program ( and also national access (; DREAMS only).

Keywords: AMS; cosmic radiation

Related publications

  • Invited lecture (Conferences)
    Colloquium Analytische Atomspektroskopie 2019 (canas 2019), 23.-26.09.2019, Freiberg, Deutschland

Publ.-Id: 29326