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Space Glasgow researches solar flares and drill devices for Mars

Ultrasonic drill tools for planetary exploration

Ultrasonic drill tools for planetary exploration

The University of Glasgow is leading two new UK-led projects for space-related research, it reports. The University’s two projects have received a total of €4.8m (£3.95m) in funding from the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) .

Dr. Lyndsay Fletcher and Dr Nicolas Labrosse from the School of Physics and Astronomy will investigate the physics of solar flares, and the School of Engineering’s Dr. Patrick Harkness and Prof. Margaret Lucas will build a new type of drill tool to extract and contain samples from the surface of Mars.

Solar flares

The F-CHROMA project (Flare CHRomospheres: Observations, Models and Archives) will bring together experts from seven institutions to collect, synthesise and analyse data from satellite and earthbound observations of solar flares.

“This project will allow us to combine ultra-high detail observation of solar flare events with advanced theoretical and computational modelling to shed light on the way a flare’s energy is stored, released, and converted into other forms,” said Dr. Lyndsay Fletcher.

“The material of the solar atmosphere, in common with 99% of the visible universe, is an electrified gas, or plasma, carrying a magnetic field. By studying energy release and radiation in solar flares we’ll be learning more about how astrophysical plasmas work, as well as probing a solar system event that has a direct impact on our planet’s environment.”

Mars drill tool

The Ultrasonic Planetary Core Drill (UPCD) consortium brings together four partner organisations to build a tool capable of drilling and storing samples from the uniquely challenging surface of Mars.

“The Martian surface has features that look like dried up river-beds, suggesting that the planet may have been much wetter in the past,” said Dr. Patrick Harkness. “Even today, there may be brine near the surface. Samples of the surface rocks would be extremely useful to develop our understanding of how similar Mars might have been to the Earth and how the planets have diverged.”

“We will build a tool that can core-drill a sample and then seal it inside the coring bit itself, so that the bit can serve as a sample return capsule. Planetary drilling is difficult because the low gravity makes it difficult to apply the large forces that are normally used to shatter rock on Earth, while the need to preserve the samples means that the rock temperature must be kept close to ambient. Once we have the samples, they cannot be returned directly to Earth because of the risk – however remote – that they could contain pathogens dangerous to our planet. They must be sealed inside a container that will only be opened in a secure laboratory.”

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Image: Ultrasonic drill tools for planetary exploration, University of Glasgow

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