16 min listen

We are entering one of the most exciting periods of space exploration, according to Dr James Darling. In the Life Solved podcast, he explains how the University of Portsmouth is playing its part in testing ideas and developing new technology.

Different histories, shared mysteries

From the robotic monitoring of planetary surfaces to amazingly detailed satellite monitoring data, the opportunity to combine resources and take human space discovery to the next level is moving at a startling pace. But as a Reader in Earth and Planetary Materials, James says some of the most exciting breakthroughs are those we can make in understanding our own planet’s history.

Compared to Mars or the Moon, the surface of Earth is young and still changing rapidly. James says that by understanding the geology of older planets, we can begin to develop theories about our future – and past.

Holes in the Moon fill in the answers

Even the tiniest piece of moonrock can reveal secrets. By looking at the mineral structure of tiny samples brought back from the Apollo missions using an electron microscope, the team realised something: Much more of the Apollo material than previously known may have formed from huge, energetic meteorite impacts in melt sheets. This challenged the long-held belief that much of this material had formed from magnetic intrusions that are similar to those found on Earth. So there is still much to be learned with new methods of analysis on old material.

James is bringing his geological expertise to data gathered from the Mars Rover missions. He says robots can allow us to study the surface of planetary bodies as we would our own earth’s crust:

The search for life isn’t just confined to other planets. Without a good record of the first billion years of Earth’s history, many questions are left to be answered about our own planet’s past. James points out that by looking at asteroid material, you can also begin to understand key moments in a planet’s history, even perhaps, the origins of life.

James says his field can answer questions with more questions, but that with so many Mars missions planned and even manned missions to the moon on the agenda again, the prospect of exciting new material – and perhaps new challenges to old theories – looks set to skyrocket.

This project will allow conservation and curatorial experts to carry out detailed and wide-ranging analysis of artefacts in these collections, which will ensure they are fully preserved for future generations.

Dr James Darling, Reader in Earth and Planetary Materials

This project will allow conservation and curatorial experts to carry out detailed and wide-ranging analysis of artefacts in these collections, which will ensure they are fully preserved for future generations.

Dr James Darling, Reader in Earth and Planetary Materials

This project will allow conservation and curatorial experts to carry out detailed and wide-ranging analysis of artefacts in these collections, which will ensure they are fully preserved for future generations.

Dr James Darling, Reader in Earth and Planetary Materials
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