Organic ablation products of extraterrestrial objects

Lead Research Organisation: Imperial College London
Department Name: Earth Science and Engineering

Abstract

When object fall to the Earth from space it is understandable that our focus is on the rocky remains of these fiery events that we can collect and study. Yet large amounts of extraterrestrial material never make it to the surface but are distilled off as gas. These contributions change our atmosphere, adding organic gases that affect our climate and destroy the protective ozone shield that cuts out damaging radiation from the Sun. On other worlds, such as Mars, they may mimic the gaseous products of biology that excite scientists looking for life elsewhere in the Solar System. Interestingly, these gas additions my have kept early Mars warm and wet so that life could have kick-started in places other than on Earth. To get to the bottom of these possibilities our research will use collected extraterrestrial material to reproduce the gas generation events in the laboratory. Results will be fed into computer simulations to provide the amounts of gas produced in this way for Earth and Mars through their history. We will produce a lower limit for gases such as methane that may be mistaken for evidence of life on Mars. The project will also help us understand how space dust made Earth and Mars warm and wet four billion years ago and how it may be making the Earth more hostile today.

Publications


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Court R (2012) Insights into the nature of cometary organic matter from terrestrial analogues in International Journal of Astrobiology
Court Richard W. (2012) Extrasolar planets and false atmospheric biosignatures: The role of micrometeoroids in Planetary and Space Science
Court Richard W. (2012) Insights into the nature of cometary organic matter from terrestrial analogues in International Journal of Astrobiology