High-precision measurements of krypton and xenon isotopes with a new static-mode quadrupole ion trap mass spectrometer
Measuring the abundance and isotopic composition of noble gases in planetary atmospheres can answer fundamental questions in cosmochemistry and comparative planetology. However, noble gases are rare elements, a feature making their measurement challenging even on Earth. Furthermore, in space applications, power consumption, volume and mass constraints on spacecraft instrument accommodations require the development of compact innovative instruments able to meet the engineering requirements of the mission while still meeting the science requirements. Here we demonstrate the ability of the quadrupole ion trap mass spectrometer (QITMS) developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (Caltech, Pasadena) to measure low quantities of heavy noble gases (Kr, Xe) in static operating mode and in the absence of a buffer gas such as helium. The sensitivity reaches 1013 cps Torr−1 (about 1011 cps Pa−1) of gas (Kr or Xe). The instrument is able to measure gas in static mode for extended periods of time (up to 48 h) enabling the acquisition of thousands of isotope ratios per measurement. Errors on isotope ratios follow predictions of the counting statistics and the instrument provides reproducible results over several days of measurements. For example, 1.7 × 10−10 Torr (2.3 × 10−8 Pa) of Kr measured continuously for 7 hours yielded a 0.6‰ precision on the 86Kr/84Kr ratio. Measurements of terrestrial and extraterrestrial samples reproduce values from the literature. A compact instrument based upon the QITMS design would have a sensitivity high enough to reach the precision on isotope ratios (e.g. better than 1% for 129,131–136Xe/130Xe ratios) necessary for a scientific payload measuring noble gases collected in the Venus atmosphere.