Scientists develop new ways to solve the mysteries of Mars

What made Mars’ oceans vanish is to be studied by Dr James Darling

Scientists hope to finally reveal how and why Mars has changed so dramatically through time, from an ancient world of rivers and oceans, to the dry and dusty planet that we see today.

Dr James Darling, at the University of Portsmouth, is leading a three-year study which aims to get to the bottom of what happened to Earth’s nearest neighbour, the so-called red planet.

He has been awarded £ 342,000 funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC).

Dr Darling is an expert in isotope geochemistry in the University’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences.

He said: “Without a robust timeline of the geological events on Mars, we can’t understand how or why it changed from an ancient world of rivers, oceans, volcanoes and meteorite impacts to the cold, dry planet that we see today.

“This project will help to reveal how the planet has evolved through new radiometric age dating of martian meteorites. Previously, this has been very difficult because these rocks have experienced extreme deformation during meteorite impact events, which can disturb the isotopic systems used for dating. We can now overcome this by identifying microscopic deformation features in crystals that can be avoided or targeted for radiometric dating using the latest techniques in mass spectrometry.

“I am excited to see where this will lead.”

The project begins in April, 2019.

Dr Darling will lead a multidisciplinary team of scientists, including partners from other leading universities in the UK, Canada and Germany, to test how the crust and mantle of Mars have evolved and influenced the surface and atmosphere.

The same questions are top of scientific wishlist of ongoing and new spacecraft missions, including NASA InSight and Mars 2020 Rover and the ESA ExoMars 2020 mission.

Astrophysicist Professor Bob Nichol, acting Pro-Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of Portsmouth, said: “Congratulations to James in gaining such competitive funding. While the red planet is a bit close for my studies, I am fascinated by our quest for answers about life in the Universe which probably means locating water on other planets. Looking at what happened on Mars first makes total sense.”

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