Planetary Formation, Structure and Dynamics

Our planetary research has expanded in collaboration with Physics colleagues. The heart of this theme is our expertise in isotope geochemistry, atmospheric processes, mineral physics and seismology, allowing the investigation of the formation, interior structure and atmospheres of solar system bodies.  Highlights include:

  • Measuring Marsquakes. Since 2010 we have been part of the UK team developing the main SEIS instrument for the NASA InSight geophysics mission to Mars. We have key roles across the Science team, from pre-launch development and verification, through post-landing deployment and into the main scientific phase of the mission, including the observation of the first ‘marsquakes’.
  • Probing the early solar system with next generation mass-spectrometry. With our industrial partners, Thermo Fisher Scientific, we developed a one-of-a-kind prototype mass-spectrometer, Proteus. This allowed us to develop novel isotopic techniques which have shed new light on long-standing questions about the solar system’s primordial radioactive inventory and the fundamental role of silicate vapour loss during collisional accretion on the Earth’s bulk composition.
  • Planetary atmospheres. Members of the school are on the science teams of major missions to study planetary atmospheres, including Cassini-Huygens, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Trace Gas Orbiter, and co-led a recent ESA mission proposal to Titan. Our observational capability includes telescope observations, including the Herschel Space Telescope and the Atacama Large Millimeter Array which allowed us to show Titan’s atmosphere is much colder than expected due to enhanced radiative cooling from trace gases.

In collaboration with Chemistry, Geography, Physics and Engineering, we will tackle critical questions in planetary science, including the nature and origin of pre-solar grains, seasonal drivers of planetary atmosphere dynamics; and the interior structure of Mars and Moon.

This theme involves collaboration between the following Research Groups: Geochemistry, Geophysics and Petrology.

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