NASA and Australian Nuclear Scientists are recreating conditions that exist on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and new materials that don’t exist on this planet.
Searching for signs of life on planets far from Earth may seem sci-fi to most, but to NASA Research Scientist, Dr Morgan Cable, it is just another day at the office.
Tomorrow that office will be the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in Sydney’s Lucas Heights, when she comes to continue her research and also give a public talk about her research and experience.
Dr Cable is the Assistant Project Science Systems Engineer for the Cassini mission, which has been exploring Saturn’s system for 10 years, using unmanned NASA flyby missions to study the surface of Saturn’s moons.
She works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, researching the extreme environments found on the icy moons and performing lab experiments to recreate the interstellar conditions.
Dr Cable is visiting ANSTO to continue her research with ANSTO’s own planetary scientist, Dr Helen Maynard-Casely, and to speak about her research, experiences and career so far at NASA.
Dr Cable’s team had already identified a new material on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, with Dr Maynard Casely then determining the atomic structure of it using the Australian Synchrotron.
Specifically Dr Maynard-Casely was able to recreate Titan’s mind-boggling - 179.2°C temperature to then determine the atomic structure of the new material.
She identified that the material is a co-crystal formed by molecules of benzene and ethane, with types of chemical bonds that haven’t been found in planetary materials before.
But now there are more questions to answer about the new material – and that’s what Dr Cable and Dr Maynard-Casely will be working on together is in Australia.
What we have here is complementary scientific techniques and technologies on opposite sides of our world, being used to understand others.
“Dr Cable and I have worked together to analyse the material at our Synchrotron in Melbourne, and now we will be using one of our neutron instruments, Wombat, to conduct further studies.
“Basically, we can already know the structure of material, but now we are looking at how it is held together, and the instruments at Lucas Heights are potentially more able to detect the hydrogen that could be key to working this out.
“When we first saw the material – one of our first questions was ‘why are you staying together?’ Over the new few days we will trying to test whether hydrogen holds the answer.”
Dr Cable is speaking at ANSTO on Wednesday 8 June from 4-5pm. Attendance is free. Bookings at www.morgancable.eventbrite.com.au. Information on ANSTO at ansto.gov.au