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Planetary science and exploration in the deep subsurface: results from the MINAR Program, Boulby Mine, UK

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 April 2016

Samuel J. Payler*
Affiliation:
UK Centre for Astrobiology, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, Kings Buildings, Edinburgh EH9 3JZ, UK
Jennifer F. Biddle
Affiliation:
College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, University of Delaware, Delaware, USA
Andrew J. Coates
Affiliation:
Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, London, UK
Claire R. Cousins
Affiliation:
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Irvine Building, University of St Andrews, KY16 9AL, St Andrews, UK
Rachel E. Cross
Affiliation:
Institute of Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science (IMPaCS), Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK
David C. Cullen
Affiliation:
Space Group, School of Aerospace, Transport & Manufacturing, Cranfield University, Cranfield, UK
Michael T. Downs
Affiliation:
Kennedy Space Center, Florida, USA
Susana O. L. Direito
Affiliation:
UK Centre for Astrobiology, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, Kings Buildings, Edinburgh EH9 3JZ, UK
Thomas Edwards
Affiliation:
Cleveland Potash Ltd, Cleveland, UK
Amber L. Gray
Affiliation:
Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden
Jac Genis
Affiliation:
Cleveland Potash Ltd, Cleveland, UK
Matthew Gunn
Affiliation:
Institute of Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science (IMPaCS), Aberystwyth University, Aberystwyth, UK
Graeme M. Hansford
Affiliation:
University of Leicester, Space Research Centre, Leicester, UK
Patrick Harkness
Affiliation:
School of Engineering, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
John Holt
Affiliation:
University of Leicester, Space Research Centre, Leicester, UK
Jean-Luc Josset
Affiliation:
Space Exploration Institute, Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Xuan Li
Affiliation:
School of Engineering, University of Glasgow, Glasgow, UK
David S. Lees
Affiliation:
Bay Area Environmental Research Institute (BAERI), 625 2nd St Ste. 209, Petaluma, CA 94952, USA
Darlene S. S. Lim
Affiliation:
Bay Area Environmental Research Institute (BAERI), 625 2nd St Ste. 209, Petaluma, CA 94952, USA Mail-Stop 245-3, NASA Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, CA 94035, USA
Melissa Mchugh
Affiliation:
University of Leicester, Space Research Centre, Leicester, UK
David Mcluckie
Affiliation:
Cleveland Potash Ltd, Cleveland, UK
Emma Meehan
Affiliation:
STFC Boulby Underground Science Facility, Cleveland, UK
Sean M. Paling
Affiliation:
STFC Boulby Underground Science Facility, Cleveland, UK
Audrey Souchon
Affiliation:
Space Exploration Institute, Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Louise Yeoman
Affiliation:
STFC Boulby Underground Science Facility, Cleveland, UK
Charles S. Cockell
Affiliation:
UK Centre for Astrobiology, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Edinburgh, Kings Buildings, Edinburgh EH9 3JZ, UK

Abstract

The subsurface exploration of other planetary bodies can be used to unravel their geological history and assess their habitability. On Mars in particular, present-day habitable conditions may be restricted to the subsurface. Using a deep subsurface mine, we carried out a program of extraterrestrial analog research – MINe Analog Research (MINAR). MINAR aims to carry out the scientific study of the deep subsurface and test instrumentation designed for planetary surface exploration by investigating deep subsurface geology, whilst establishing the potential this technology has to be transferred into the mining industry. An integrated multi-instrument suite was used to investigate samples of representative evaporite minerals from a subsurface Permian evaporite sequence, in particular to assess mineral and elemental variations which provide small-scale regions of enhanced habitability. The instruments used were the Panoramic Camera emulator, Close-Up Imager, Raman spectrometer, Small Planetary Linear Impulse Tool, Ultrasonic drill and handheld X-ray diffraction (XRD). We present science results from the analog research and show that these instruments can be used to investigate in situ the geological context and mineralogical variations of a deep subsurface environment, and thus habitability, from millimetre to metre scales. We also show that these instruments are complementary. For example, the identification of primary evaporite minerals such as NaCl and KCl, which are difficult to detect by portable Raman spectrometers, can be accomplished with XRD. By contrast, Raman is highly effective at locating and detecting mineral inclusions in primary evaporite minerals. MINAR demonstrates the effective use of a deep subsurface environment for planetary instrument development, understanding the habitability of extreme deep subsurface environments on Earth and other planetary bodies, and advancing the use of space technology in economic mining.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2016 

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