Purdue Martian mineral expert available; part of search for signs of life

September 28, 2015  


MARS EXPERT

Briony Horgan, an assistant professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue University, uses NASA orbiters to study the mineralogy of the surface of Mars and reconstructs ancient water environments to evaluate their habitability for life. She can discuss the announcement of the evidence of liquid water flows on the planet.

Horgan currently leads a project to look for the same salts featured in the liquid water flow findings in a different region of the planet. She searches for the salts, called perchlorates, in the north polar region of Mars to better understand how they form.

She also is helping design and test the mast-mounted camera with zoom capability, or Mastcam-Z, for the 2020 Mars rover and is helping to evaluate sites for future rover and human missions to look for signs of life.

Mastcam-Z is a camera system that can perform spectroscopic experiments and is equipped with a wheel of color filters that will allow it to tune in to specific wavelengths of light. The absorption of light at different wavelengths is what gives minerals and rocks their characteristic colors and can be used to identify the material from which they formed.

The minerals present on the surface of Mars can provide insight into the current and past conditions of the planet. For instance, different combinations of minerals indicate whether a particular Martian rock was once covered by water or if there was a volcanic eruption in the area, Horgan said.

"If the rocks in an area indicate the location might once have been the bottom of a lake, then the science team might decide to send the rover over for a closer look and to use other equipment onboard to test for organic compounds and biosignatures – signs of life," she said.

Writer: Elizabeth K. Gardner, 765-494-2081, ekgardner@purdue.edu

Source: Briony Horgan, 765-496-2290, briony@purdue.edu 

Related news release:

Purdue professor will use an array of colors to study the Red Planet

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