The Open University (OU) has received £2.5 million from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) to fund research in planetary sciences, building on the university’s 50 years in space science.
Scientists from the School of Physical Sciences have been awarded the grant to further their research in the origin and evolution of the Solar System, and to answer the age-old question: is there life beyond the Earth?
Search for extra-terrestrial life begins
On 1 April, the OU team will begin work on five new projects to study extra-terrestrial materials and environments from the Moon to the icy satellites of the giant planets.
Commenting on news of the award, Simon Green, Professor of Planetary and Space Science at the OU, said:
“This award maintains the Open University’s place at the forefront of planetary science research and exciting new developments in Solar System exploration and the search for extra-terrestrial life.
“With these projects, we will utilise data from a range of past and current space missions, Earth-based observations and the university’s extensive analytical laboratories to study the earliest stages of the formation of our Solar System and processes that shape its current properties and ability to host life beyond the Earth.”
Award funds five new projects
The three-year award, entitled: Planetary Sciences at The Open University 2020 – 2023, will fund a team of 22 research, technical support and academic staff, as well as laboratory facilities. Projects will include:
- An investigation of the abundance, composition, sources and evolution of volatiles in the Moon, which are of importance for understanding the Moon’s origin, and their key role for in-situ resource utilisation for future lunar exploration.
- Identification of the mechanisms and locations of the formation of chondrules (small, spherical silicate objects predominant in primitive meteorites that retain information about the earliest stages of the planetary formation process).
- Addressing the challenge of exploitation of massive, high-resolution planetary imaging data sets, by using a deep-learning system to investigate the properties of lunar impact craters and test the effectiveness and wider application of such tools for planetary surface analysis.
- Searching for the effects of the YORP effect (non-uniform emission of heat and scattering of sunlight), a mechanism for spin changes, mobility of surface material, mass loss and asteroid binary and pair production.
- Determination of whether life could produce unique bio-signatures within the sub-surface oceans of the icy moons, Europa and Enceladus using laboratory simulation experiments and geochemical modelling.