Planetary Origins and Evolution at Imperial (2019-2022)

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

Abstract

How do stars and planetary systems develop and is life unique to our planet? This is one of the most fundamental of questions in science and has deeply profound implications for our place in the cosmos. It is thus a key scientific challenge set by the Science and Technology Facilities Council. Our planet formed 4.5 billion years ago along with the Sun and the other planets and minor bodies in our Solar System. Only by understanding the details of how our Solar System formed can we hope to find an answer.

We now know how stars and planetary systems form in general. We know that stars form by the collapse of interstellar clouds of dust and gas, and planets are constructed in disks of dust and gas surrounding these young stars. There is, however, much we don't know about how our Solar System formed. Why, for example, are all the planets so different? Why is Venus an inferno, Mars a frozen rock, and Earth a haven for life? The answer lies in events that predated the assembly of the planets. Our research program focuses on answering key outstanding questions in this early history of the Solar System.

The source of presolar dust provides a context to our solar system. From what types of star was dust derived and is this mixture typical of other planetary systems? Some of this dust still remains preserved within ancient meteorites and reveals that at least 30 stars produced building blocks for our planets. We aim to sample many more stars by looking for interstellar dust preserved on the Earth's surface within sediments accumulated throughout our planet's history. This will provide a full ingredient list for planetary systems, not just our own.

How planetary materials changed after the dust was assembled into larger bodies is crucial in making planets that are suitable for life. Our research will examine whether primitive planetesimals, the early forerunners of planets, melted and mixed internally by examining the evidence for early magnetic fields within meteorites. Our research will evaluate whether ancient magnetic traces already found in meteorite minerals are reliable indicators of the dynamos of metallic cores.

Volatile constituents are vital to life but easily lost by heating and they differ greatly in abundance between planets in our solar system. Our research focuses on the volatile budgets of the terrestrial planets, to identify the source of the volatiles and determine when they were added. For this, the research examines the isotopes of selenium and tellurium and is made possible by technology and method advances that will be pioneered in the study. As such, the work will help us understand how planets acquire the ingredients essential to the formation life.

Large quantities of volatiles, organic matter and energy, were delivered to the terrestrial planets in a prolonged period of intense bombardment in the early solar system, which likely had a profound influence on the emergence and evolution of life. Large craters that scar the Moon, Mars, Venus and large asteroids provide a record of this bombardment, but one that is challenging to decode. By simulating large crater formation using advanced numerical models, we aim to link observed crater populations to the impactors that formed them and constrain the timing and source of their delivery to the inner solar system.

Finally, what constitutes a planet "suitable for life"? To date only Earth is known to have living things. Whilst the search for life on Mars continues, many believe that living organisms are more likely within the ice-covered oceans of the moons of Jupiter and Saturn. Our research will focus on recognizing the molecular signature of life within the atmospheres and outflows from icy-moons using experiments and world-leading analytical techniques. This research could provide the first convincing evidence for life beyond Earth and widen our view of the right kind of planet.

Planned Impact

Public Sector

Encouraging science and engineering participation in schools and inspiring students to study STEM subjects is a primary goal of the Review of Science and Society Programme conducted by the Department of Business, Innovations and Skills (2012) resulting in the Charter for Science and Society in the UK. Our outreach strategy (see Pathways to Impact attachment and Project-specific outreach activities, Appendix III) involves 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 (Project E) and Impact Earth (Project A) 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.

(a) The selenium isotope analyses of Project C will employ the Sapphire MC-ICP-MS, a new mass spectrometer developed by Nu Instruments Ltd, which was only recently launched in August 2017. The project represents one of the first applications of the Sapphire in the context of a full research project. As such, our work will support Nu Instruments in demonstrating the performance and capabilities of the new mass spectrometer to potential costumers. Hence, Nu Instruments are expecting the research collaboration to generate additional revenue of up to £300,000 per year.

(b) Isotopic techniques originally developed by Rehkamper (Project C) for meteorite analyses have found numerous other applications, including (i) toxicological studies of manufactured nanomaterials as part of a private-public partnership that provided the UK contribution to the OECD Working Party on Manufactured Nanomaterials, (ii) investigations of breast cancer to identify new methods of early diagnosis (Larner et al., 2015), and (iii) work funded by both Mars Chocolate and a STFC-GCRF grant in support of sustainable cocoa production. Further industry-relevant applications are under development.

(c) Extraction and analysis of organics are applicable to a wide range of environmental, forensic and petrochemical applications. Sephton (Applicant, Project B) has a successful track record with the TTO in KE including the transfer of space-related technologies to the areas of forensics and oil extraction working with express Medicals and BP and Apache, respectively.

Third Sector

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

General Public

The IC Strategy document 2015-2020 states that Imperial College London will "share the wonder and importance of what we do. Collaboration with the public, schools and our local communities fosters a shared passion for and understanding of our work." Communicating our research to the public is an important activity and our research results in ~60 media interviews a year. We also act as advisors on documentaries (e.g. How to build a Planet, 2014) and thus help shape the science narrative of the media. Our research also generates significant media interest. In 2017 there were over 700 media articles on our research including a range of high profile international publications (National Geographic, The New York Post, The New York Times, The Guardian, The Times, Seeker). US Discover magazine also rated one of our papers as #58 in the top 100 scientific discoveries of 2017. We also have a long standing relationship with STFC Science in Society (SiS) program including constructing the Lunar Samples Package (Genge).

Publications

10 25 50
 
Title Dataset for "A steeply-inclined trajectory for the Chicxulub impact" 
Description Data files for 5 timesteps from each simulation. File name convention is A<angle>_v<velocity>_t<time>.npz where time is in seconds (or the string "final"). Each file contains several cell-based fields (pressure, temperature, specific internal energy, density), tracer fields (peak tracer pressure, x,y,z locations) and grid information (nodal and cell-centred coordinates). For an example of how to access all that information, see the "Timestep" class at the top of the "plot_frame.py" python script. Python script "plot_frame.py" will create a figure similar to the panels in Figures 2 and 3 in the paper. Use the flags -a, -V and -t to set the desired impact angle, impact velocity and time. iSALE3D input files for the 8 simulations can be found in inputfiles.tgz Postprocessing python scripts can be found in postprocessing.tgz 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
URL https://zenodo.org/record/3667833
 
Title Dataset for "A steeply-inclined trajectory for the Chicxulub impact" 
Description Data files for 5 timesteps from each simulation. File name convention is A<angle>_v<velocity>_t<time>.npz where time is in seconds (or the string "final"). Each file contains several cell-based fields (pressure, temperature, specific internal energy, density), tracer fields (peak tracer pressure, x,y,z locations) and grid information (nodal and cell-centred coordinates). For an example of how to access all that information, see the "Timestep" class at the top of the "plot_frame.py" python script. Python script "plot_frame.py" will create a figure similar to the panels in Figures 2 and 3 in the paper. Use the flags -a, -V and -t to set the desired impact angle, impact velocity and time. iSALE3D input files for the 8 simulations can be found in inputfiles.tgz Postprocessing python scripts can be found in postprocessing.tgz 
Type Of Material Database/Collection of data 
Year Produced 2020 
Provided To Others? Yes  
URL https://zenodo.org/record/3667832
 
Title CHESS Bennu Ryugu files 
Description Input and postprocessing files for Davison, Raducan, Collins and Bland: "Constraining the age and strength of Bennu and Ryugu using collisional history modelling" 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2020 
URL https://zenodo.org/record/3630779
 
Title CHESS Bennu Ryugu files 
Description Input and postprocessing files for Davison, Raducan, Collins and Bland: "Constraining the age and strength of Bennu and Ryugu using collisional history modelling" 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2020 
URL https://zenodo.org/record/3630778
 
Title CHESS Monte Carlo model 
Description CHESS (Collisional Histories in the Early Solar System) is a Monte Carlo statistical framework for estimating the collisional histories of asteroids in the Solar System and the collateral effects of those impacts 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2020 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact The code has so far been used in the following papers: Davison, T.M., O'Brien, D.P., Ciesla, F.J. and Collins, G.S. (2013) The early impact histories of meteorite parent bodies. Meteoritics and Planetary Science, Volume 48, Issue 10, pp. 1894-1918(25). Davison, T.M., Ciesla, F.J. and Collins, G.S. (2014) The effect of impact obliquity on shock heating in planetesimal collisions. Meteoritics & Planetary Science, Volume 49, Issue 12, pp 2252-2265(14). 
URL https://zenodo.org/record/3631554
 
Title CHESS v1.0 
Description CHESS: Collisional Histories in the Early Solar System This repository contains the version of CHESS used in Davison, Raducan, Collins and Bland, "Constraining the age and strength of Bennu and Ryugu using collisional history modelling". 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2020 
URL https://zenodo.org/record/3630291
 
Title CHESS v1.0.1 
Description CHESS: Collisional Histories in the Early Solar System This repository contains the version of CHESS used in Davison, Raducan, Collins and Bland, "Constraining the age and strength of Bennu and Ryugu using collisional history modelling". 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2020 
URL https://zenodo.org/record/3630290
 
Title CHESS v1.0.1 
Description CHESS: Collisional Histories in the Early Solar System This repository contains the version of CHESS used in Davison, Raducan, Collins and Bland, "Constraining the age and strength of Bennu and Ryugu using collisional history modelling". 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2020 
URL https://zenodo.org/record/3631554
 
Title iSALE shock physics code 
Description iSALE (impact-SALE) is a multi-material, multi-rheology shock physics code for simulating high speed impacts and other violent geophysical phenomena. iSALE includes constitutive and porous-compaction models specifically developed for impact simulations. The code is being continually developed, improved and maintained by research groups at the Museum für Naturkunde, Berlin and Imperial College London. 
Type Of Technology Software 
Year Produced 2006 
Open Source License? Yes  
Impact iSALE has been used in pioneering studies of the formation of large impact craters on the Earth and the influence of target property variations on crater formation, the influence of a water layer on crater formation, as well as investigating the mobility of large rock avalanches.The software has been extensively validated against laboratory experiments and used to show, for the first time in numerical simulations, the important effect of friction and porosity on crater growth in granular materials. 
URL http://www.isale-code.github.io
 
Description A steeply-inclined trajectory for the Chicxulub impact press release 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Media (as a channel to the public)
Results and Impact Press release and Imperial College News item about: A steeply-inclined trajectory for the Chicxulub impact. Collins, G.S., Patel, N., Davison, T.M., Rae, A.S.P., Morgan, J.V., Gulick, S.P.S., Nature Communications 11, 1480. (2020). The work diagnoses the direction and angle of attack of the asteroid impact responsible for the KPg extinction. The impact angle was among the deadliest possible and constrains the volume of hazardous climate changing gases injected into the atmosphere. The work received widespread international media coverage. Led to several interviews with radio, internet and print media.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020
URL https://www.altmetric.com/details/82771548
 
Description Impact: Earth! 
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 As part of this Fellowship and in collaboration with international colleagues I updated my very successful, interactive web program for estimating the consequences of impacts on Earth [http://impact.ese.ic.ac.uk]; from the size of the crater and the probability of such an event occurring, to the speed of the winds from the blast wave and thermal radiation from the hot vapour plume. Users of the site include the general public and scientific community, from primary and secondary school children, through university undergraduates, to professional scientists and journalists. Recent improvements include a new, more visual interface, additional features (such as predictions of tsnumai wave heights) and projection of damage contours onto Google Earth.

The release of our updated web program was front-page news on the BBC website and received widespread media attention, e.g.:



BBC http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-11685803

USA Today http://content.usatoday.com/communities/sciencefair/post/2010/11/asteroid-impact-calculator/1

Time http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,2029288,00.html

Science http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2010/11/scienceshot-destroy-earth-from.html?ref=hp
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity Pre-2006,2006,2007,2008,2009,2010,2011,2012,2013,2014,2015,2016,2017,2018,2019,2020,2021
URL http://impact.ese.ic.ac.uk