From revealing why dinosaurs were killed to exploring the rocky terrain on Mars, here are 10 moments from 2021 when Imperial took its final limits.
While most of us were excited Just To get out of the house again, the Imperial College London researchers were looking toward the sky.
Perseverance pays off
On February 18, NASA’s newest rover lander safely landed on Mars at the 28-mile-wide Jezero crater. The robotic explorer is tasked with searching for evidence of ancient life in the geographic terrain and soil composition of Mars that could indicate the planet’s former habitability.
Imperial researchers are heavily involved in the mission. Their work includes finding promising samples of soil and rocks to return to Earth and experimenting with exciting new technologies that could help future astronauts on their missions (such as a method for producing oxygen on Mars).
“This may be the mission that answers the question of whether life exists on Mars,” said Professor Mark Sefton, Head of the Department of Earth Sciences and Engineering and Imperial astrobiologist for the Perseverance mission.
gift from above
A rare meteorite – the only one of its kind to land in the UK – fell from the sky on February 28 and was recovered by Imperial scientists.
More than 1,000 eyewitnesses saw the meteor explode in the night sky, which was captured on camera by the UK Fireball Alliance (UKFAII).
Imperial contributed to UKFAII led by Dr Sarah McMullan from the Department of Earth Science and Engineering. With her team, she helped recover parts of the meteorite, which was composed of carbonaceous chondrites: a class of primordial space rock.
By analyzing the fragments, the researchers hope to gain information about the birth of life in the early days of the solar system as well as the planets that make up it.
The Mars rover shows MOXIE
NASA’s rover has successfully produced breathable oxygen on Mars for the first time. The Mars Oxygen Resource In Situ Experiment (MOXIE) was an experiment to convert carbon dioxide in the red planet’s atmosphere into oxygen.
Perseverance was able to produce about five grams of oxygen, the equivalent of ten minutes of breathable oxygen for an astronaut.
Professor Tom Pike from the Department of Electrical and Electronics Engineering is a research associate at MOXIE and said: “We are on track to have the first humans on Mars.
“The technology that MOXIE has demonstrated can help provide fuel for these return flights using the same Mars resources.”
Ready to leave home and explore Jupiter’s moons
After several attempts during COVID, the Imperial magnetometer is finally ready to go to study Jupiter’s icy moons. The magnetometer will measure magnetic fields in space as part of the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission, which is scheduled to launch in August 2022.
Members of Imperial’s physics department were quick to adapt to the pandemic — some parts of the fly-away magnetometer were assembled on the team’s kitchen tables when they couldn’t use the university’s research labs. The researchers even performed the difficult chore of cleaning the delicate parts of the instrument with cotton buds when they usually had access to clean, dust-free rooms.
What killed the dinosaurs?
Research from the VUB and Imperial University of Brussels argued that space dust above Chicxulub crater was strong evidence that the asteroid caused the dinosaurs’ mass extinction.
Scientists analyzed a cross-section of layers of rock extracted from an expedition. They found that there were high levels of iridium in the sediment layers that marked the catastrophic end of the Cretaceous period.
The team believes these iridium levels are explained by the asteroid evaporating on impact and releasing the iridium into Earth’s atmosphere as it flew around the planet in a cloud of dust. This cloud of space dust eventually settled, creating a spike in iridium deposits around the world that is more concentrated in the Chicxulub crater.
Let’s go back in time to sand dunes on Mars
NASA’s Curiosity probe has helped reveal ancient sand dunes on Mars by investigating current rock formations on the planet’s surface.
Imperial researchers used Curiosity images of rock units on Mars that contain clues about the shape and size of these ancient sand dunes, allowing them to model the wind conditions that created them in the first place.
From these models, scientists were able to look back three and a half billion years ago when two competing winds pushed large sand dunes through Gale Crater – the remnants of a dry lake bed.
Rovers have allowed scientists to explore Mars like never before. Lead author Dr. Stephen Banham said: “Although geologists have been reading rocks on Earth for 200 years, only in the past decade or so have we been able to read Martian rocks with the same level of detail as we do on Earth.”
Putting the ear on the solar wind
The magnetic field around the Earth protects us from the currents of charged particles released by the sun called the “solar wind”. At first, researchers thought Earth’s magnetosphere would ripple after being hit by the solar wind, but the Imperial researchers used models and observations from NASA satellites to explain why the magnetosphere remains so perfectly stationary.
Excitingly, the researchers also translated electromagnetic signals from NASA’s THEMIS (History of Large Events and Interactions During Substorms) satellites into the soundtrack of the solar wind!
InSight to learn about the components of Mars
By analyzing the seismic events, the researchers used instruments aboard the InSight lander on Mars to unveil the hidden interior of the planet.
Understanding the components of the interior of Mars can help scientists better understand its early evolution.
The Imperial scientists were part of a larger NASA Insight team that looked into the swamps. When seismic waves were traveling through the interior of Mars, some of them were reflected off the planet’s core. By studying these signals, the scientists were able to determine the relative size and possible composition of the core.
Throwing an “axion bomb” in the laws of physics
A research team from Imperial, the Cockcroft Institute and Lancaster University ventured to infinity and beyond when they discovered whether the laws of physics break down in singularities.
The team proposed a way that temporary singularities, such as black holes of infinite density, could violate a very cherished law of nature: charge conservation. This law states that the total electric charge in an isolated system always remains the same.
The team showed how axions — hypothetical particles that might explain dark matter — can carry an electric charge and disappear into a black hole, destroying the charge in the process.
Dr Paul Kinsler, Imperial physicist, co-author said: “Although people often like to say physics is ‘breaking down’, we show that although strange phenomena can happen, what actually happens is constrained by the laws of physics that are not Still working around the world. Singularity.” Fortunately, the laws of physics will live to see another day!
How’s the weather there?
The magnetometer made by Imperial physicists will be part of a pioneering NASA mission to monitor and map the solar wind, the streams of charged particles that the sun emits.
The mission, known as the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), is scheduled to launch in 2025.
The magnetometer aboard the space probe will measure interplanetary magnetic fields, which are vital to science’s understanding of how charged particles are accelerated and transported throughout the solar system.