Lancaster University

This is archived news from Lancaster University. You can find up-to-date stories in our current news section.

Lancaster Scientists involved in international planetary research

02/17/2004 13:45:34

A TEAM of Lancaster scientists is set to fly out to Houston, Texas, to take part in a conference discussing cutting-edge developments in world-wide planetary research.

This, the 35th Annual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC), looks likely to attract more than 1,000 planetary scientists to present the latest results of space science research efforts across the globe.

From March 15 to 19 hundreds of experts in petrology, geochemistry, geophysics, geology, and astronomy will converge on Texas to examine issues from Martian meteorites to future missions to the Moon. This year the Lancaster team will give four presentations on Mars, three on the Moon and one on the Earth.

Lancaster’s Professor Lionel Wilson, one of six representatives from the university heading for Houston, said that in the light of the current Mars missions the red planet looked set to be a hot topic at the conference.

During the conference Professor Wilson will present the findings of a study which suggests that water has been stored underground on Mars for most of the planet's history - possibly in a series of caves and underground lakes.

Professor Wilson co-authored the study called 'Factors controlling water volumes and release rates in Martian outflow channels' with colleagues from Lancaster and from Brown University in the USA. He said that through examining channels on the surface of Mars it was possible to conclude water had once flowed very quickly over some parts of the planet. The finding strengthens the possibility that scientists may one day discover simple organisms on the planet.

Professor Wilson, Leader of Lancaster University Planetary Science Research Group, said that the shape of the channels indicated that in some cases the water had not seeped gradually through the ground but had more likely been released suddenly from a large source.

He said: "For the most extreme cases it now looks like we may have to think in terms of cave systems in elevated areas containing underground lakes which managed to break out onto lower ground where the crust was disturbed. This could have been caused, for example, by nearby volcanic activity, the formation of an impact crater or a large landslide. The importance of all this is that it adds even more weight to the idea that a lot of water was stored underground on Mars for most, if not all of the history of the planet, some of it in substantial reservoirs. This implies a measure of long-lasting stability to these water bodies, and significantly increases the possibility that simple organisms may have evolved on Mars and survived in such underground water systems.”