2016 kicks-off with two exciting new projects here at St. Andrews, and two new people! The first is a Leverhulme Trust funded 3 year project (Jan 2016 – 2019) focusing on the UV luminescence of organics and minerals, and will be conducted by Boris Laurent who joined the St. Andrews Planetary Habitability cohort as a postdoctoral research fellow this month. The overarching objective of this project is to investigate the detection of mineral deposits and the organics they can preserve using UV luminescence imaging and spectroscopy.These findings will be integrated into ongoing development of space instrument technologies used for the surface exploration of Mars and beyond. This work will also complement my ongoing research developing the science behind the ExoMars PanCam instrument (Harris et al. 2015, Cousins et al. 2012, Cousins et al. 2010), and will involve close collaboration with colleagues at Aberystwyth University (namely Matt Gunn, Rachel Cross, Andy Evans) and University of Leicester (Lewis Dartnell), as well as our own Adrian Finch at St. Andrews.
The second project is a 3 month study funded by a Carnegie Trust Research Incentive Grant, which will start in June 2016. This work will investigate how to detect different salts on Mars by ‘unmixing’ hyperspectral images – teasing out the spectral endmembers that make up a single pixel within remote sensing data. This is important because salts such as sulfates, nitrates, and perchlorates can reveal much about the history of water and habitability of Mars. For this we will be using the Atacama Desert in Chile as a surface analogue for Mars. The Atacama is one of the driest places on Earth, with different salts making up varying proportions of the surface sediments – by tying together spectral and mineralogical analysis of samples collected from the ground with hyperspectral data acquired from orbit, we can find out how to detect and identify salts on small spatial scales. This project involves collaboration with Mark Claire, also of St. Andrews, Jennifer Harris at Birkbeck, UoL, and the Field Spectroscopy Facility at the University of Edinburgh. More detail about the project can be found in this feature.