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(STFC DTP) Using minerals analogues to understand effects of sterilisation procedures and applications for Mars Sample Return


Project Description

Future missions aim to collect samples from a range of planetary bodies. NASA and ESA are working on plans for a series of Mars missions to collect, transport and return rocks and soil samples to the Earth. Such initiatives are hugely exciting as they will help groundtruth our understanding of martian geological processes, provide evidence for the age of the martian surface, and constrain the conditions for the presence of extant or extinct life. It is expected that samples returned to Earth will undergo a careful Planetary Protection curation process, which will likely involve sterilisation of the material collected. Such sterilisation processes likely will include heat treatment or gamma-ray radiation, or both of these processes and it is vital that we understand what the effects of these necessary curation processes will be on planned biological and geological science mission objectives.
As part of the study we:
• Will select and characterise representative martian minerals (hydrated and unhydrated), salts, rock types (including martian meteorite samples), and isotopic and geochemical standards.
• Conduct experiments under martian atmosphere simulations to expose analogues to martian-like atmosphere conditions.
• Undertake sterilisation procedures similar to that planned for Mars Sample Return missions on this sample set.
• We will assess aspects of the presence, abundance and type of organic matter, and the effects of sterilisation on key biomolecules linked to life detection.
• We will use a combined characterisation of spectroscopic (FTIR, pyrolysis-GC/MS and RAMAN), petrography and mineralogy (SEM and XRD), chemistry (halogens and volatiles) and age dating (argon-argon noble gas mass spectroscopy) to determine the effects of these processes on the interpretation of sterilisation-tolerant science (i.e., geology, mineralogy, age dating, exposure history).

Suggested skills needed. The project would suit a student interested in laboratory work and space exploration who is keen to develop skills at the forefront of sample analysis and data reduction for geochemistry. A background in geoscience, planetary science, or chemistry at undergraduate level is required.

References

Allen, C.C., Albert, F.G., Combie, J., Banin, A., Yablekovitch, Y., Kan, I., Bodnar, R.J., Hamilton, V.E., Jolliff, B.L., Kuebler, K. and Wang, A., 1999. Effects of sterilizing doses of gamma radiation on Mars analog rocks and minerals. Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, 104(E11), pp.27043-27066.

The Quarantine and Certification of Martian Samples (2002) Chapter: 5 The Sterilization of Samples from Mars https://www.nap.edu/read/10138/chapter/7

Zapping Mars Rocks with Gamma Rays (1999) PSRD http://www.psrd.hawaii.edu/Dec99/gammaRays.html

Related Subjects

How good is research at The University of Manchester in Earth Systems and Environmental Sciences?

FTE Category A staff submitted: 42.13

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