Mars research and priorities in the Aurora programme

Hagermann, Axel and Bridges, John (2011). Mars research and priorities in the Aurora programme. Astronomy & Geophysics, 52(2) 2.34-2.36.



John Bridges and Axel Hagermann summarize an RAS Special Discussion Meeting in January 2011, which looked at the prospects for the UK exploring Mars.

High-resolution imaging and near-infrared mapping of the martian surface, together with detailed studies of martian meteorites and exobiology research, have revealed an increasing amount of detail about how climate and surface processes have changed over the history of Mars. The exploration of Mars is now being planned through a joint NASA–ESA programme. New missions such as the Mars Science Laboratory in 2012 and the Trace Gas Orbiter in 2016 will also improve our understanding about the evolution of Mars. Mission planning is being guided by recent reports of methane in the Mars atmosphere and the identification of minerals and landforms associated with water such as the Eberswalde Delta. Mars research is also acting as a spur for the development of mission concepts and analytical techniques such as new XRD techniques, microRaman and a Life Marker Chip.

The second UK in the Aurora Programme meeting was held on 14 January 2011 at Burlington House, London. The aim was to bring together researchers, particularly in the field of Mars research and instrumentation, in order to provide a platform to show our research and to discuss what the priorities for future missions within Aurora should be. The Aurora programme encapsulates Europe's current plans, aiming to send unmanned spacecraft to explore our neighbouring world to examine its climate, search for evidence of past or present life, and learn how conditions there relate to those on Earth. The meeting was introduced by Frederick Taylor (Oxford).

High-resolution imagery of some of the surface of Mars using the HiRise camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) at 25 cm/pixel has changed our view of the evolution of its surface and climate. One of the ways our view of Mars has changed is the recognition of the influence of glacial and periglacial activity in shaping landscapes. Matt Balme (Open University) and Peter Gallagher (Trinity College Dublin) presented new observations of periglacial landforms that appear to have been formed by water as part of freeze–thaw cycles: self-organized patterns of stone stripes, polygons, circles and clastic solifluction lobes. The low density of impact craters suggests these terrains formed in a geologically recent era. Kate Goddard et al. (Imperial College) presented a study of youthful gullies and depositional fans on Mars in Mojave Crater. Understanding the role of water or other processes, including CO2 ice sublimation, in the formation of such gullies is a crucial way of reaching a more accurate understanding of martian climate variations within the last few million years. Balme and Gallagher speculated that because perchlorates (identified at the Phoenix landing site) have eutectic temperatures below 240 K and can remain liquid at temperatures far below the freezing point of water, perchlorate brines may explain freeze–thaw processes and could cause geomorphological changes.

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