Presentation time: Tuesday, 27 September, 2016 - 21:30

The night sky around us, and the celestial bodies we see, capture our imagination – and it is almost 50 years ago that humankind first set foot on the Moon. The six Apollo missions that reached the lunar surface brought back 382 kilograms of rocks and soils. This material is an invaluable resource for lunar science and our understanding of the Moon, the Earth and the Solar System. Prof. Simon Kelley will speak about the fascination of lunar exploration and the OU’s connection with it. He and his team are currently working with NASA to digitise thin sections (thin slices of the sample used for microscopy) from the original rocks and soils. They are available at the OU’s virtual microscope site for everyone to study – and enjoy!

Further away but not less fascinating is Mars, the Red Planet. Dr. Susanne Schwenzer’s research centres around the question if there are places on Mars, where microbes could have lived – or maybe even live today. Valuable information for this comes from the NASA Curiosity rover, currently active in Gale Crater, Mars. The rover investigations have revealed evidence that liquid water was present at Gale in the past; in fact most of the rocks found so far have a close connection to water, because they are lake bed sediment, or they are conglomerates (pebbly rocks laid down by small streams), and some of them contain clay minerals, too.

Mercury, in contrast, poses very different questions. It is the smallest planet in our solar system and closest to the Sun. Prof. David Rothery studies Mercury through the eyes of the MESSENGER spacecraft and is very much looking forward to new data from the BepiColombo mission that will reach Mercury in 2024. The MESSENGER mission has revealed many surprises already, including how rich the planet’s surface is in volatile elements that we did not expect so close to the Sun.

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