Planetary Origins and Evolution at Imperial (2016-2019)

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

Abstract

How from a cloud of dust and gas did we arrive at a planet capable of supporting life? This is one of the most fundamental of questions, and engages everyone from school children to scientists. We now know much of the answer: We know that stars, such as our Sun, form by the collapse of interstellar clouds of dust and gas. We know that planets, such as Earth, are constructed in a disk around their host star known as the planetary nebula, formed by the rotation of the collapsing cloud of dust and gas. We know that 4.5 billion years ago in the solar nebula, surrounding the young Sun, all the objects in our Solar System were created through a process called accretion. And among all those bodies the only habitable world yet discovered on which life evolved is Earth.

There is, however, much that we still do not know about how our Solar System formed. Why, for example, are all the planets so different? Why is Venus an inferno with a thick carbon dioxide atmosphere, Mars a frozen rock with a thin atmosphere, and Earth a haven for life? The answer lies in events that predated the assembly of these planets; it lies in the early history of the nebula and the events that occurred as fine-dust stuck together to form larger objects known as planetesimals; and in how those planetesimals changed through collisions, heating and the effects of water to become the building blocks of planets. Our research will follow the evolution of planetary materials from the origins of the first dust grains in the protoplanetary disk, through the assembly of planetesimals within the solar nebula to the modification of these objects as and after they became planets.

Evidence preserved in meteorites provides a record of our Solar System's evolution. Meteorites, together with cosmic dust particles, retain the fine-dust particles from the solar nebula. These dust grains are smaller than a millionth of a metre but modern microanalysis can expose their minerals and compositions. We will study the fine-grained components of meteorites and cosmic dust to investigate how fine-dust began accumulating in the solar nebula; how heating by an early hot nebula and repeated short heating events from collisions affected aggregates of dust grains; and whether magnetic fields helped control the distribution of dust in the solar nebula. We will also use numerical models to simulate how the first, fluffy aggregates of dust were compacted to become rock.

As well as the rocky and metallic materials that make up the planets, our research will examine the source of Earth's water and the fate of organic materials that were crucial to the origins of life. By analysing the isotopes of the volatile elements Zn, Cd and Te in meteorites and samples of Earth, Moon and Mars we will establish the source and timing of water and other volatiles delivered to the planets in the inner Solar System. In addition, through newly developed methods we can trace the history of organic matter in meteorites from their formation in interstellar space, through the solar nebula and into planetesimals. Reading the highly sensitive record in organic matter will reveal how cosmic chemistry furnished the Solar System with the raw materials for life.

Once the planets finally formed, their materials continued to change by surface processes such as impacts and the flow of water. Our research will examine how impacts of asteroids and comets shaped planetary crusts and whether this bombardment endangered or aided the emergence of life. We will also study the planet Mars, which provides a second example of a planetary body on which life could have appeared. Imagery of ancient lakes on Mars will reveal a crucial period in the planet's history, when global climate change transformed the planet into an arid wasteland, to evaluate the opportunity for organisms to adapt and survive and identify targets for future rover and sample return missions.

Planned Impact

Public Sector

Widening participation in STEM subjects is a key aim of the Government's Higher Education Policy (Higher Education White Paper, 2011) due to a significant achievement gap between the public and private education sector (CBI 2010). Widening participation across social-economic groups will be achieved through engagement with our inspiring science program and benefits from its accessibility to students in the crucial "crossroads" KS3.0-4.0 group and extensive media coverage. Our outreach strategy (see Impact Plan) evolves existing relationships with the BA, the Royal Society, the Royal Institution, the Natural History Museum, Greenwich Observatory and STFC Science in Society. Our activities include direct contact open days and school visits as well as online education resources such as the Rock Library (all Projects) and Impact Earth (Project A&G) that engage with more than 400k people each year.

Private Sector

The private sector will benefit from our technology and methodology development and widened participation in STEM. Spinout will be exploited through Imperial Innovations, the Technology Transfer Office of Imperial College. Our review of knowledge exchange potential with the TTO has identified several areas for implementation:

(a) The application of double spike methods to toxicology. Isotopic tracing methods are being exploited through PROSPECT, a private-public partnership that provides the UK contribution to the OECD Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials (Project C).

(b) Extraction and analysis of organics are applicable to a wide range of environmental, forensic and petrochemical applications. Sephton (PI project B) has a successful track record with the TTO in KE including patents in the areas of forensics and heavy oil extraction (Filed patent: P45622EP).

(c) The iSALE shock physics code (Project A&G) is an established free-to-use tool whose users include the Atomic Weapons Establishment, Aldermarston. Industry collaborations are being developed.

(d) High resolution image analysis of the martian surface (Project F) will provide important constraints for spacecraft design. Commercial spacecraft construction is a key UK industry, worth £7.5 billion to the UK economy (UK Space Agency, BIS, 2011).

(e) New isotope analysis techniques (Project C) have been successfully applied to early diagnosis of breast cancer and industry exploitation is under discussion (Larner et al., 2015).

Third Sector

Third sector organisations are important in widening participation in the UK (DfE, DCSF-00699-2009). Our program already engages with the BA, The Royal Institute, Royal Society and the Royal Astronomical Society (see Impact Plan). We are also involved with amateur societies UK-wide giving ~16 lectures a year. During the grant we expect to contribute to the BA Festival of Science, The RS Summer exhibition and the Science Media Centre (RI).

General Public

The IC Strategy document 2010-2014 states "Imperial College London is committed to engaging with public audiences about the relevance of its research to society. This commitment builds on the skilled and creative ways that Imperial researchers and students already engage with public audiences." Communicating our research to the public is an important activity and our research results in ~60 media articles a year. PIs also give 7 media interviews per year each and act as advisors on documentaries (e.g. How to build a Planet, 2014). We also have a long standing relationship with the STFC Science in Society (SiS) program including constructing the Lunar Samples Package (M. Genge).

Publications


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Davison T (2016) MESOSCALE MODELING OF IMPACT COMPACTION OF PRIMITIVE SOLAR SYSTEM SOLIDS in The Astrophysical Journal
Forman L (2016) Hidden secrets of deformation: Impact-induced compaction within a CV chondrite in Earth and Planetary Science Letters
Johnson BC (2016) Formation of the Orientale lunar multiring basin. in Science (New York, N.Y.)
Miljkovic K (2016) Subsurface morphology and scaling of lunar impact basins in Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets
 
Description Planetesimal evolution 
Organisation Planetary Science Institute - Arizona
Country United States of America 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution access to data, software, and significant intellectual input into your collaborator/partners research.
Collaborator Contribution Own time and computational resources data
Impact Several published papers
Start Year 2009
 
Description Planetesimal evolution 
Organisation University of Chicago
Department Department of the Geophysical Sciences
Country United States of America 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution access to data, software, and significant intellectual input into your collaborator/partners research.
Collaborator Contribution Own time and computational resources data
Impact Several published papers
Start Year 2009
 
Description Shock Physics 
Organisation Imperial College London (ICL)
Department Institute of Shock Physics
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Numerical model development; numerical simulation of shock wave propagation
Collaborator Contribution Funding of PDRA and PhD student for numerical model development
Impact Several conference abstracts and papers in preparation
Start Year 2009
 
Description ABC News article on my Geology paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Australian Broadcasting Corporation ran an article on my Geology paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2013,2016
 
Description Daily Mail article on my Geology paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Daily Mail ran an article on my Geology paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Economist article on my Geology paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The economist ran an article on my Geology paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Huffington Post article on my Geology paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Huffington Post ran an article on my Geology paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Il Giornale (Italy) article on my Geology paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The magazone Il Giornale (Italy) ran an article on my Geology paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Irish Examiner article on my Geology paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Irish Examiner ran an article on my Geology paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Irish News article on my Geology paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Irish News (a national newspaper) ran an article on my Geology paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Mirror article on my Geology paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Mirror newspaper ran an article on my Geology paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description New Scientist article on GRL paper on vesicular parachutes 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact New scientist ran an article on my paper in Geophysical Research Letters
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description New Scientist article on my Geology paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact New Scientist ran an article on my Geology paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description New Scientist article on my Nature paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact New Scientist publish an article on my Nature paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23030741-900-shooting-stars-show-earth-had-oxygen-eons-before...
 
Description Quo magazine ran an article on my geology paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Quo magazine (Spain) ran an article on my Geology paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Seeker article on my Geology paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Seeker magazine ran an article on my Geology paper on Cosmic Dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Singapore Strait Times article on Geology paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Strait Times (Singapore) ran an article on my Geology paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
 
Description Sky and Telescope article on my Geology paper on Cosmic Dust 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Sky and Telescope Magazine ran an article on my Geology paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Telegraph article on my Geology paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact The Telegraph ran an article on my Geology paper on cosmic dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Telegraph article on my Nature paper 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Telegraph article on my Nature paper on Cosmic Dust
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/05/11/fossilised-stardust-could-hold-secret-to-origins-of-li...