Effects of geochemical composition on neutron die-away measurements: Implications for Mars Science Laboratory's Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons experiment

C. Hardgrove, J. Moersch, D. Drake

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


The Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN) experiment, part of the scientific payload of the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover mission, will have the ability to assess both the abundance and the burial depth of subsurface hydrogen as the rover traverses the Martian surface. DAN will employ a method of measuring neutron fluxes called neutron die-away that has not been used in previous planetary exploration missions. This method requires the use of a pulsed neutron generator that supplements neutrons produced via spallation in the subsurface by the cosmic ray background. It is well established in neutron remote sensing that low-energy (thermal) neutrons are sensitive not only to hydrogen content, but also to the macroscopic absorption cross-section of near-surface materials. To better understand the results that will be forthcoming from DAN, we model the effects of varying abundances of high absorption cross-section elements that are likely to be found on the Martian surface (Cl, Fe) on neutron die-away measurements made from a rover platform. Previously, the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) Spirit and Opportunity found that elevated abundances of these two elements are commonly associated with locales that have experienced some form of aqueous activity in the past, even though hydrogen-rich materials are not necessarily still present. By modeling a suite of H and Cl compositions, we demonstrate that (for abundance ranges reasonable for Mars) both the elements will significantly affect DAN thermal neutron count rates. Additionally, we show that the timing of thermal neutron arrivals at the detector can be used together with the thermal neutron count rates to independently determine the abundances of hydrogen and high neutron absorption cross-section elements (the most important being Cl). Epithermal neutron die-away curves may also be used to separate these two components. We model neutron scattering in actual Martian compositions that were determined by the MER Alpha Proton X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS), as examples of local geochemical anomalies that DAN would be sensitive to if they were present at the MSL landing site. These MER targets, named Eileen Dean, Jack Russell, and Kenosha Comets, all have unusually high or low Cl or Fe abundances as a result of geochemical interactions involving water. Using these examples we demonstrate that DAN can be used not only to assess the amount of present-day hydrogen in the near-surface but also to identify locations that may preserve a geochemical record of past aqueous processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)442-455
Number of pages14
JournalNuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research, Section A: Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 11 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Dynamic Albedo of Neutrons (DAN)
  • Mars Science Laboratory (MSL)
  • Monte Carlo N-particle eXtended code (MCNPX)
  • Neutron die-away

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nuclear and High Energy Physics
  • Instrumentation


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