Cool engineering for cold science

Has there ever been life on Mars?

We’re not sure, and current investigations focus around what happened to the water on Mars, which has long since disappeared from the planet’s surface. In 2007, the Opportunity rover detected the presence of meridianiite at its landing site in Meridiani Planum. Meridianiite (also known as MS11) is MgSO4∙11H2O, a hydrated sulfate mineral that is only stable at temperatures below 2°C. Satellite observations tell us that there are outcrops of hydrated sulfate minerals, several kilometres thick, in the walls of Valles Marineris, and meridianiite is thought to be widespread on Mars. Could hydrated minerals such as these be locking away all the water that once flowed on Mars?

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

 

Ingredients for Life Revealed in Meteorites That Fell to Earth

Study, based in part at Berkeley Lab, also suggests dwarf planet in asteroid belt may be a source of rich organic matter

Two wayward space rocks, which separately crashed to Earth in 1998 after circulating in our solar system’s asteroid belt for billions of years, share something else in common: the ingredients for life. They are the first meteorites found to contain both liquid water and a mix of complex organic compounds such as hydrocarbons and amino acids.

Read more on the Berkeley Lab website.

Image: Artist’s rendering of asteroids and space dust. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Extraterrestrial Oceans

Exploring the solar system does not need spacecraft

One of the amazing things scientists can do at Diamond is to recreate conditions of other parts of the Universe. Recently they used this remarkable ability to peer into the salty waters hidden underneath kilometres of ice on Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons.
In September, NASA ended the Cassini mission in spectacular fashion, crashing the spacecraft into Saturn. For twenty years, Cassini brought us closer to our gas giant neighbour and its moons. The probe made astonishing discoveries about one of them: Enceladus. This small moon has plumes of gas erupting from its surface, it has a rocky core covered in a thick layer of ice, and in between lies a deep, salty ocean. It is one of the most promising places to look for extraterrestrial life. Enceladus is one of the few places in the Solar System where liquid water is known to exist.
Spacecraft aren’t our only way of exploring the solar system, and Stephen leads a team of experimental astrophysicists based at Diamond and Keele University (UK), who have been recreating the conditions in Enceladus’s salty ocean right here in Harwell. They have been using Diamond’s astoundingly bright light to investigate one of the more mysterious properties of water – its ability to form clathrates when water is cooled under pressure. Clathrates are ice-like structures that behave like tiny cages, and can trap molecules such as carbon dioxide and methane.

 

>Read more on the Diamond Light Source website

Image Credit: LPG-CNRS-U. Nantes/Charles U., Prague.