Planetary Science

Planetary Materials

The ExoMars landing site in Oxia Planum. We study the evolution of Mars through a combination of mission involvement and analysing martian meteorites. Our research aims include to understand the nature of water-rock reaction in the martian crust and compositional differentiation of the lithosphere.

Remote observations by the CaSSIS and HiRISE cameras on Trace Gas Orbiter and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter enable us to see multifilter colour and high resolution views of the planet’s surface, and plan for the ExoMars rover landing.

As part of Mars Science Laboratory and ChemCam, we study the composition and mineralogy of the Mars surface in situ. One of our themes is disentangling the compositional effects of igneous clasts, detrital minerals and low temperature alteration in the martian sediments.

Our studies of martian meteorites include the first geochemical classification scheme of the shergottites based on trace element abundances, and relating this to partial melting within the mantle. We study the mineralogy of martian meteorites, making the first comprehensive identification of clay types – ferric saponite and serpentine and carbonate within the nakhlite meteorites and relating them to the clays and carbonate identified on the martian surface. Other recent meteorite studies include the impact breccia NWA 8114, and the alteration within shergottite NWA 10416.

The study of Mercury’s lithospheric differentiation is now possible with new imagery and X-ray data. We are using this to study targets for the MIXS-T X-ray space telescope, part of the BepiColombo mission, which will be in mapping orbit around Mercury from 2025. 

Our early Solar System materials research centres on analyses of Stardust mission Comet Wild2 grains, including the first identification of the effects of hydrothermal alteration on the comet’s parent body, and analyses of Asteroid Itokawa grains returned by the JAXA Hayabusa mission. Currently we are preparing for carbonaceous chondrite-like material to be returned by the Hayabusa2 mission. We aim to better understand the formation and alteration of the most ancient, primitive building blocks of Solar Systems.

Embedded in our research are a range of analytical techniques – including electron microscopy and related techniques, Diamond synchrotron – to study the mineralogy of sample return and meteorite materials. Our instrumentation work is related to our research themes, including preparing science instrumentation for Mars Sample Return.

You can follow our work on Mars topics: MSL and ExoMars etc by reading this blog

Follow our activities via twitter @LeicsPlanets

You can see more of our publications, mission involvement roles, conferences organised etc here.

Staff and PhD students

  • Professor John Bridges
  • Dr Leon Hicks
  • PhD Students
    • Don Bowden (ChemCam and Raman analyses of martian materials)
    • Graeme Hall (Mercury and the MIXS X-ray telescope)
    • Jack Piercy (Mineralogy of martian meteorites)
    • Adam Parkes-Bowen (CaSSIS and HiRISE characterisation of Mars)

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