PhD project: The Habitability of Extraterrestrial Environments

Project description

Current theories suggest that habitable environments may have existed on the surface and in the subsurface of Mars over short, long or more punctuated timescales throughout its history. Punctuated habitable conditions could have existed in hydrothermal impact systems, outflow channels, and recent data suggest the existence of seasonal flows of briny water on the surface that persist to the present day.

This project aims to investigate the habitability of such sporadic environments throughout Mars’ history, using a combination of microbiological and planetary simulation techniques. It will make full use of cutting edge facilities available at the University of Edinburgh, including the Planetary Environmental Liquid Simulator (PELS) and will build on extensive work already completed as part of an STFC consortium grant. Results from the project will have direct applications to the development of instruments for future Mars missions.

The candidate should have a degree in biology, chemistry, physics, geology, planetary science, or related disciplines and should be prepared to work in a highly cross-disciplinary fashion.

Relevant references

Fox-Powell, M.G., Hallsworth, J.E., Cousins, C.R., Cockell, C.S. 2016. Ionic strength is a barrier to the habitability of Mars. Astrobiology 16, 427-442.

Cockell CS, Bush T, Bryce C, Direito S, Fox-Powell M, Harrison JP, Lammer H, Landenmark H, Martin-Torres J, Nicholson N, Noack L, O’Malley-James, J, Payler SJ, Rushby A, Samuals T, Schwender P, Wadsworth J, Zorzano MP. 2015. Habitability: A review. Astrobiology 16, 89-117.

Martin-Torres FJ, Zorzano MP, Valentin-Serrano P, Harri AM, Genzer M, Kemppinen O, Rivera-Valentin EG, Jun I, Wray J, Madsen MB, Goetz W, McEwan AS, Hardgrove C, Renno N, Chevrier VF, Mischna M, Navarro-Gonzalez R, Martinez-Frias J, Conrad P, McConnochie T, Cockell C, Berger G, Vasavada AR, Sumner D, Vaniman D. Transient liquid water and water activity at Gale crater on Mars. Nature Geoscience DOI: 10.1038/NGEO2412.

Project supervisor

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