UK Planetary Forum, Early Career Scientists’ Annual Meeting

Friday 17th January 2014 saw the 11th Early Career Scientists’ annual meeting take place at the Open University in Milton Keynes. The free event was expertly organised by the committee of the UK Planetary Forum and there was an extensive range of presentations with timely tea and biscuits in between.

Meteorites changing the way we look at ancient Egyptian processes

The first keynote speaker Dr Diane Johnson from the Open University (OU) was unfortunately unable to attend at the last minute, but left her talk on meteorite iron in ancient Egypt in the very capable hands of Monica Grady.  Monica proceeded with a most engaging talk that had the timing and delivery of a professional comedian.

This incredible talk fascinatingly married the fields of meteoritics and archaeology, from the study of a humble iron bead found in an Egyptian tomb dated c.3400 BC. The bead now resides in the Manchester museum and non-destructive CT scanning analysis was carried out on the bead, also here in Manchester. The bead is of meteorite origin and contains greater than 3% nickel. Therefore, the iron would have had to be annealed to form it into a bead, as cold-working would just shatter such nickel-rich iron (and yes, Dr Johnson has tried and tested recreating the bead using iron with greater than 3% nickel and primitive tools). This suggests that the skills and tools for smelting and annealing in ancient Egypt may have been developed around 3000 years earlier than originally thought, dramatically changing how we may view processes and trade of the Egyptians at the time.

Further planning and funding for this project is currently being applied for and anybody who is interested in its development, I urge you to visit the new website subtly named, ancientegyptianslags.com.  I think it is safe to say that this will get people’s attention.

Manchester’s very own lunar contribution by Natalie Curran

Nat showed that she is truly on her way as a top researcher in all things lunar and her jokes were as sharp as her research skills, even including a reference to the fine roundabouts that are such a landmark of Milton Keynes.

NASA moon re blog

NASA’s Galileo spacecraft image of the Moon, 1992. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

Nat is currently studying 2 basaltic lunar meteorites to constrain the duration of their exposure to cosmic rays, determine their soil antiquity (closure age), depth of burial and when they were exposed at the surface (maturity).  To achieve this Nat is going to make measurements of cosmogenic noble gases using a VG5400 mass spectrometer.  The outcomes will greatly help to understand the processes and timing that lead to the formation of basaltic crust on terrestrial planetary bodies as well as information of volcanic products on the Moon by impact bombardment and space exposure.

Spoilt for choice

The range and quality of all the talks was astounding, including those from speakers who only started their research just a few months ago.  One of the newbies to PhD research is Tom Barrat at the OU. Tom discussed measuring volatile budgets in apatite found in HEDs, to help provide insight on the origin and evolutionary processes of the early Solar System.

Also looking at early Solar System formation was Epifanio Vaccaro from the Natural History Museum.  He is developing the techniques of micro-XRD and TEM and applying them to analyse the matrix of primitive chondrites with the view to drawing any similarities with the solar proto-planetary disk.

A slightly controversial topic for me was the study of panspermia (the hypothesis that life

was distributed between planets by meteoroids, asteroids and comets etc.) As fascinating as this research is, the controversy for me comes into play by researcher Dina Pasini from Kent treating those cute extremophiles, the targdigrades, in a rather harsh manner.  He takes colonies of tardigrades and replicates high velocity impact conditions to see if they survive. With results initially being recorded as death:living ratios, you can see my concern for the poor tardigrades.

Another stand out talk was that by Ricky Hibbert from Kent, who spoke about the application of RAMAN spectra on Martian analogue minerals in preparation for the future ExoMars programme. So far his study has been carried out on peridots (gem quality Mg-rich olivines) under Martian temperatures (-150-20˚C).

Into the furnace: Story of the Sun-grazers

The second keynote speaker of the day was Dr. Geraint Jones from University College London.  After the global coverage and hype of the doomed comet ISON at the end

Comet image from NASA's Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer

Comet image from NASA’s Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer. (Image courtesy of NASA.)

of 2013, he went on to explain more about the life of such comets who end up on suicide courses towards the Sun.  More than 2500 of these so call sun-grazing comets have been recorded and measured by the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO). Dr Jones commented on comet Ikeya-Seki as an example of a lucky comet that got away, surviving its encounter with the solar corona. With the aid of LASCO, Dr Jones also produced incredible footage of a comet just after perihelion with its dust tail tracing out the magnetic field of the sun as it passed.

Time to reflect over a glass of wine

This event was a fantastic hub of networking, tweeting (#UKplanetary) and scintillating talks of the highest calibre. Overall a very successful day, finally rounded off with a great poster presentation session, accompanied by the ever vital complimentary wine.

Well done to everybody involved and looking forward to next year.

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