Characterising Phobos-like samples in the Museum meteorite collection

Stickney crater, Phobos

Stickney crater, Phobos. Imaged by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, 23 March 2008. NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona, public domain

Aside from the Earth’s Moon, the two small Martian satellites, Phobos and Deimos, are the only known inner solar system natural satellites. While the formation of our Moon is believed to have formed by a giant impact into the early Earth, how Phobos and Deimos formed remains an open question.

JAXA’s upcoming MMX sample return mission to Phobos, will launch in 2024 and return samples from the surface of Phobos in 2029 [1].

Aside from the Earth’s Moon, the two small Martian satellites are the only known inner solar system natural satellites. While the formation of our Moon is believed to have formed by a giant impact into the early Earth, how Phobos and Deimos formed remains an open question.

Understanding these objects may help us better understand the formation of small bodies, their relationship to larger evolved planets and the distribution and movement of material in the solar system.  

Both Phobos and Deimos most closely resemble a type of dark asteroid called D-type, thought to be chemically primitive volatile-rich bodies [2]. There are two competing formation models for the Martian moons. They may be captured asteroids [3], or by-products of a high energy collision onto the Martian surface, which subsequently ejected material into orbit [4].  

The Natural History Museum houses the National Meteorite Collection, a comprehensive and systematic collection that is a treasure trove for UK planetary science. We will use this key resource to search for meteorites that have spectral similarities to Phobos and/or Deimos. We will test the two formation hypotheses for the moons by selecting a combination of carbonaceous chondrites (CC) (as expected for a D type asteroid) and also dark differentiated meteorites (as expected for an impact produced body).  

For each meteorite we will obtain x-ray diffraction and thermigravitational analyses to determine bulk mineralogy and water content. We will obtain thermal infra-red emissivity spectra under simulated asteroid and martian moon conditions where temperature and pressure can be controlled.

Undertaking analyses under such conditions represents a major advance over previous studies, being directly comparable to previously acquired spectra from Phobos and Deimos [e.g. 19]. Furthermore, these data will be critical for interpretation of the MMX’s spectrometer data while the mission is in flight. 

The student will have the benefit of working at two world-class institutions with excellent collections and state of the art laboratory facilities. The supervisors already have experience of working together on similar projects [5].

The project would suit a candidate excited by planetary exploration, with a background in geological sciences, physics or a related subject. 

Eligibility

To be classed as a home student, candidates must meet the following criteria:

  • Be a UK National (meeting residency requirements), or
  • Have settled status, or
  • Have pre-settled status (meeting residency requirements), or  
  • Have indefinite leave to remain or enter  

 If a candidate does not meet the criteria above, they would be classed as an International student.

Further guidance on UKRI Eligibility Criteria can be found on the UKRI website

How to apply

Please send the following documents to Anna Hutson (postgradoffice@nhm.ac.uk)

  • Curriculum vitae
  • Covering letter outlining your interest in the PhD project, relevant skills training, experience and qualifications, and a statement of how this PhD project fits your career development plans.
  • Transcripts of undergraduate and Masters degree results.
  • Two academic references including (if applicable) Masters project supervisor.
Phobos

Image of Phobos taken by ESA’s Mars Express spacecraft © ESA

Apply for this project

This is an Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) funded studentship between the University of Oxford and the Natural History Museum.

Read the eligibility criteria and application guidance below, then send your application to postgradoffice@nhm.ac.uk.

Application deadline: 29 January 2021

Any questions?

Natural History Museum

Sara Russell 

Dr Ashley King

We welcome applications from everyone

We offer a stimulating and professional environment in which to work. We look for staff who can work according to our values: diversity, creativity, connection and evidence-based thinking.