“Investigating properties of the planetary ices that form in the outer solar system. ”
PhD project title:
Mineral physics of planetary ices.
In the outer solar system, many of the diverse astronomical objects orbiting the Sun are built from mixtures of dust, rock and ice in varying proportions. These bodies can range from comets in the Kuiper Belt to the moons of the giant planets.
Over geological time, their structures have been subject to alteration caused by convection and surface processes aided by radiant solar energy. This has resulted in some of the larger bodies forming concentric layers of different ice structures which also contain additional volatile compounds. With depth, increasing pressure leads many layers to undergo phase transitions to different forms of ice (or in some circumstances the creation of subsurface oceans) which exhibit a range of different properties.
My project will use both neutron and x-ray diffraction techniques to investigate the expansion and conduction properties of some of these ice phases that can be manufactured in the laboratory. It will also use computational methods to examine atomic positions and bonding energies in their structures.
As NASA and other space agencies turn their attention to sending space probes to gather remote sensing data from these icy worlds, an understanding of the properties of ice at pressure and low temperatures will help to better interpret their findings