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PhD in Geographical & Earth Sciences: Space weathering of carbonaceous asteroids and its astrobiological implications


Project Description

Two missions are currently en route to collect samples from carbonaceous asteroids and return them to Earth. The OSIRIS-Rex mission (NASA) will sample Bennu, whereas Hayabusa2 (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, JAXA) will visit the asteroid Ryugu. Both asteroids have affinities to the carbonaceous chondrite meteorites. As they are composed of anhydrous and hydrous silicate minerals together with water and organic molecules, these meteorites are of particular interest with regards to the delivery of biologically important molecules to early Earth and Mars.

The missions will collect samples of fine-grained regolith that have been to ‘space weathered’; this term describes a group of physical and chemical processes that alter the surfaces of airless bodies. The effects of space weathering on carbonaceous asteroids are very poorly understood. Therefore, in preparation for the sample return missions, considerable efforts are being made to understand space weathering, for example by using spectroscopic measurements of asteroids, and laboratory laser/ion irradiation experiments. This project seeks to test and ground-truth results from these studies by studying samples of asteroid regoliths that are available as the CM carbonaceous chondrite meteorites.

This project will focus on CM chondrites that have been exposed to the space environment for long periods of time. Space weathering will be identified by the presence of olivine grains that contain abundant damage tracks, and so must have been irradiated by charged particles during extended regolith exposure. The effects of space weathering on hydrous silicate minerals and organic compounds will likely include heating, dehydration, and amorphisation. Also of interest is the thickness, chemical composition and mineralogy of space weathered rims on olivine grains. This part of the project will use the revolutionary technique of atom probe tomography at one of our partner institutions (University of Sydney or Curtin University).

Please contact the principal supervisor with any questions ().

Funding Notes

Funding may be available for the right Home/EU candidate through the College Graduate School Scholarship. The application deadline for this is 31 January 2019. Please note that you wish to be considered for this scholarship on your application form. This project is also open to applications from self-funded students.

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