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Planetary Science News

Moons of Mars: New theory for their past and future
As soon as the moons of Mars were discovered by the American astronomer Asaph Hall in 1877, scientific curiosity went into overdrive to answer the age-old question that drives children and scientists alike: Why? Researchers have long asked: Why are they there, and how did they form? We’re exploring those angles plus another aspect: Where are they heading? Dr. David Minton, Purdue EAPS professor, reports about Mars moons on Medium.

An Earth-Like Axial Tilt Might Be Necessary for Complex Life to Arise
Earth has numerous properties that make it an ideal home for life as we know it, including a robust magnetic field that deflects radiation, a temperate climate with liquid water, a large moon that stabilizes the planet’s rotation, and a modest axial tilt. That last item may be more important than we previously thought, according to a new study funded by NASA. The study suggests that a tilted axis leads to more oxygen production, and that means more complex life. Dr. Stephanie Olson of EAPS is cited in this article by 24Tech.

Purdue University research highlights from 2021
Purdue’s faculty helped to advance key research that improves our work, health and world. Enjoy a roundup of Purdue research news from 2021 including Purdue planetary scientist Dr. Briony Horgan has several key leadership roles for the Mars rover mission.

Perseverance rover makes 'completely unexpected' volcanic discovery on Mars
Lava once flowed at the site of an ancient lake on Mars. The Perseverance rover landed on the planet just 10 months ago, but it has already made that surprising discovery. The rover's latest finding suggests that the bedrock it has been driving over since landing was once formed by volcanic lava flows -- something that was "completely unexpected," according to mission scientists. Previously, they thought the layered rocks Perseverance took photos of were sedimentary. Dr. Briony Horgan of Purdue EAPS is cited in this article by CNN.

USRA Announces 2021 Distinguished Undergraduate Award Recipients
Universities Space Research Association proudly announced today the winners of the prestigious 2021 USRA Distinguished Undergraduate Awards. In keeping with its goal to recognize and develop promising future scientists in space-related disciplines, USRA bestows these awards to honor outstanding undergraduate students in a variety of majors through a competitive process. These awards are granted to students who tackle challenging problems in aerospace engineering, space science research and exploration, demonstrate leadership, promote diversity in science and engineering, and are poised to make significant contributions to their fields. An Honorable Mention went to Purdue EAPS student Emma Rogers.

How SpaceX’s massive Starship rocket might unlock the solar system—and beyond
If all goes to plan, next month SpaceX will launch the largest rocket in human history. Towering nearly 400 feet tall, the rocket – Starship – is designed to take NASA astronauts to the moon. And SpaceX’s CEO, Elon Musk, has bigger ambitions: he wants to use it to settle humans on Mars. Much has already been made of Starship’s human spaceflight capabilities. But the rocket could also revolutionize what we know about our neighboring planets and moons. “Starship would totally change the way that we can do solar system exploration,” says Ali Bramson, a planetary scientist from Purdue University. “Planetary science will just explode.”

Asteroid material deposited during large impacts record the moon’s ancient magnetic field
The moon has no core dynamo magnetic field, but spacecraft detect numerous strong localized magnetic fields in the crust of the moon. Many of these magnetic anomalies are antipodal to large impact basins. Scientists at Purdue University and the University of California, Santa Cruz, led by Brandon Johnson, Purdue associate professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences, ran impact simulations that showed that during oblique impact, ejected material piles up at the impact antipode. This antipodal ejecta may be several-hundred meters thick. Much of this ejecta is impactor material, which may contain iron or other minerals that can become magnetized. The authors found that this material is heated by the impact shockwave and remains warm enough to cool after it lands and records the moon’s ancient magnetic field. Using the strength of these anomalies and the calculated abundance of impactor material, they found that the moon’s magnetic field had a strength of 40-73 μT at the time large impact basins were forming about 4 billion years ago.

Space dust analysis could solve mystery of the origins of Earth’s water
An international team of scientists may have solved a key mystery about the origins of the Earth’s water, after uncovering persuasive new evidence pointing to an unlikely culprit - the Sun. Professor Michelle Thompson is a co-author of this international research.

Studying Moon volcanoes to find breathable air and fuel for lunar bases
Volcanic eruptions are a breathtaking demonstration of the power and forces that lie beneath the surface of a planet. Volcanoes erupt molten magma from a planet’s interior, and can gush to produce lava flows or explode to create ash. Volcanic eruptions and deposits can tell us about the interiors of planets — how they formed, their structure, and their composition. Check out Dr. Briony Horgan's first-person account of lunar research on this article.

A Mars Rover Explored a Wasteland and Found an Oasis
Millions of miles away, on the surface of Mars, inside an enormous crater, a little NASA rover is taking some pictures. The view is quite stunning there—miles of undisturbed cinnamon terrain scattered with pebbles and boulders, with silky dunes where the craggy bedrock doesn’t peek through. But when the rover, named Perseverance, sent the photos back home from the crater, known as Jezero, scientists saw something more. Dr. Briony Horgan is cited in this article from The Atlantic.

Perseverance’s first major successes on Mars – an update from mission scientists
In the short time since NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021, it’s already made history. At the moment, Mars and the Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun, and the two planets cannot communicate with each other. After working nonstop for the past 216 Martian days, the science teams are taking the first real break since the mission started. We are two members of the Perseverance team, and with the rover hunkered down for the 20 days of conjunction, it is the perfect time to step back and reflect on the mission thus far. This Conversation piece was created by Dr. Briony Horgan, EAPS, and Dr. Melissa Rice, Western Washington University.

8 Projects Win Funding in 1st Year of Scialog: Signatures of Life in the Universe
Research Corporation for Science Advancement, the Heising-Simons Foundation, NASA, and The Kavli Foundation are announcing awards totaling $1,100,000 to eight multidisciplinary teams of researchers in the inaugural year of Scialog: Signatures of Life in the Universe. Each of the 20 individual awards is for $55,000. Dr. Stephanie Olson of Purdue EAPS, is involved with one of the projects titled, “Water, Water Everywhere … Drops to Drink but Nothing to Eat? A Model for the Evolution of Ocean Chemistry on Waterworlds.”

Living on Mars Time with Mastcam-Z
*BEEP!!!!!* *BEEP!!!!* The awakening sound of the alarm clock rings out through the bedroom. It’s 4 pm and the dying late winter light bleeds in around the makeshift blackout curtains of repurposed bed sheets. It’s another beautiful evening on Mars.

Revealed: NASA’s ‘Night Mission’ To Mercury, The Only Inner Planet We’ve Yet To Land On
Has anything landed on Mercury? No! NASA may have selected two missions to go to Venus this year, but what about the first planet from the Sun? It’s the only inner planet whose surface hasn’t been unexplored by a robot, but that could change with the “Mercury Lander” mission. Dr. Michelle Thompson of Purdue EAPS is on the mission concept team for this first-of-its-kind mission.

Mars Lake Hypothesis on Ice After Study Offers Different Explanation
Scientists have long debated what's under the surface of Mars' south pole. A new study points to clays being more likely than a subsurface lake. Dr. Briony Horgan of Purdue EAPS is cited in this article from Signals AZ.

Planetary scientist puts Mars lake theory on ice with new study that offers alternate explanation
For years scientists have been debating what might lay under the Martian planet's south polar cap after bright radar reflections were discovered and initially attributed to water. But now, a new study puts that theory to rest and demonstrates for the first time that another material is most likely the answer. Briony Horgan of EAPS is cited in this article from Science Daily.

Full Steam Ahead Podcast Episode 112 – Perseverance Mars Rover Update
NASA’s Perseverance Mars Rover Mission is only five months into its mission and already impressing everyone involved. The rover, launched on July 30, 2020 and landed on Mars on February 18, 2021, and has been busy ever since. Last October, Full Steam Ahead talked with Briony Horgan, an associate professor of Planetary Sciences, in between the launch and landing about the goal of mission, its importance, excitement and nerves, and much more. On the latest episode of Full Steam Ahead: A Podcast About Purdue, CBS4’s Adam Bartels catches up with Horgan to discuss the emotion of Perseverance’s landing, what’s happened since, what’s next, and more!

Perseverance rover prepares to collect Martian samples that will be sent to Earth
Almost a year after NASA's Perseverance rover was launched on its nearly seven-month journey to Mars, the robotic explorer is preparing to collect its first Martian sample within the next two weeks. Briony Horgan, part of the rover's science team and associate professor of planetary science in Purdue University's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences in the College of Science, is mentioned in this piece by CNN.

Stored for 50 Years, Technology is Finally Advanced Enough to Analyze Apollo Moon Samples
If hindsight is 20/20, what is foresight? Foresight like that of NASA leaders in the 1970s who locked 840 pounds of moon rocks and dust in a vault until technology advanced enough to study them accurately deserves at least 20/10. “When these samples were collected, when men walked on the moon, I hadn’t even been born yet,” said Thompson, an assistant professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “This sample has been on Earth longer than I have. It has been sitting in storage, waiting for scientists to analyze it since it was returned. Scientists now have tools and technologies that the original generation of astronauts could only dream of. Now it’s our turn to follow in their footsteps and study the moon rocks they brought back.”

Volcano research leads to better understanding of their deep structure
The deep structure of volcanoes has proven difficult for geoscientists to understand due to the inherent difficulty of seeing below the Earth’s surface. To get a more holistic understanding of volcanoes and their subsurface structure, a team of researchers from multiple disciplines, including Jonathan Delph of Purdue University’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, combined their expertise to better understand how their datasets can be interpreted in light of the others.

Planets With Seasons Like Ours Could Host Complex Alien Life, Suggests NASA Research
The theory goes that there’s a not-too-warm, not-too-cold, but just right “Goldilocks zone” within which liquid water can exist on the surface of a planet. “Worlds that are modestly tilted on their axes may be more likely to evolve complex life,” said Stephanie Olson from Purdue University and lead researcher of the study. “This helps us narrow the search for complex, perhaps even intelligent life in the Universe.”

Goldilocks planets 'with a tilt' may develop more complex life
Planets which are tilted on their axis, like Earth, are more capable of evolving complex life. This finding will help scientists refine the search for more advanced life on exoplanets. This NASA-funded research is presented at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference. The lead researcher, Stephanie Olson, of Purdue EAPS, presents at these findings at the Goldschmidt Conference at 11:30 a.m. EST on July 9, 2021.

Purdue scientists studying moon samples from Apollo 17 Mission
Researchers at Purdue are working on a groundbreaking project that's literally out of this world. "Curiosity is really what drives scientists and it's important to understand our place in the solar system," said Purdue Assistant Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences Michelle Thompson. That's exactly what Thompson is doing. She's in the middle of a three-year project analyzing moon dust from the Apollo 17 Mission. Video included.

Still taking giant leaps from lunar small steps: Purdue scientists analyze moon dust collected by Apollo 17 astronauts
Humans have not set foot on the moon for nearly 50 years, but the Apollo moon missions aren’t over. The echoes from Neil Armstrong’s first steps are still helping scientists make giant leaps in understanding the moon’s geology. Now, Purdue University scientists including Michelle Thompson, an assistant professor of EAPS in Purdue’s College of Science, and Marc Caffee, professor of Physics and Astronomy in the Department of Astronomy and Physics, are both working on teams that will analyze some of the moon rocks and lunar soil samples from that mission.


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