Portsmouth scientists awarded £342k grant to study how Mars died

Mars which will be the focus of a new study by the University of Portsmouth scientists
Mars which will be the focus of a new study by the University of Portsmouth scientists
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CITY scientists hope to finally reveal how and why Mars changed from an ancient world with rivers and oceans to the dry, dusty planet it is today.

Dr James Darling, at the University of Portsmouth, is leading a three-year study which aims to get to the bottom of what happened to Earth’s nearest neighbour.

He has been awarded £342,000 funding from the Science and Technology Facilities Council. The study begins in April.

Dr Darling, an expert in isotope geochemistry, will use advanced techniques to look at martian meteorites.

He said: ‘This project will help to reveal how the planet has evolved through new radiometric age dating of martian meteorites.

‘Previously, this has been very difficult because these rocks have experienced extreme deformation during meteorite impact events, which can disturb the isotopic systems used for dating.

‘We can now overcome this by identifying microscopic deformation features in crystals that can be avoided or targeted for radiometric dating using the latest techniques in mass spectrometry.

‘I am excited to see where this will lead.’

Dr Darling will lead a multidisciplinary team of scientists, including partners from other leading universities in the UK, Canada and Germany, to test how the crust and mantle of Mars have evolved and influenced the surface and atmosphere.

The same questions are top of scientific wishlist of ongoing and new spacecraft missions, including NasaInSight and Mars 2020 Rover and the ESA ExoMars 2020 mission.

Astrophysicist Professor Bob Nichol, acting pro-vice chancellor for research and Innovation at the University of Portsmouth, said: ‘Congratulations to James in gaining such competitive funding.

‘While the red planet is a bit close for my studies, I am fascinated by our quest for answers about life in the universe which probably means locating water on other planets. Looking at what happened on Mars first makes total sense.’