Astronomy by microscope
Traditionally, astronomers study stars and planets by telescope. But we can also learn about them by using a microscope – through studying meteorites. From meteorites, we can learn about the processes and materials that shaped the Solar System and our planet. Tiny grains within meteorites have come from other stars, giving information about the stellar neighbourhood in which the Sun was born.
Meteorites are fragments of ancient material, natural objects that survive their fall to Earth from space. Some are metallic, but most are made of stone. They are the oldest objects that we have for study. Almost all meteorites are fragments from asteroids, and were formed at the birth of the Solar System, approximately 4570 million years ago. They show a compositional variation that spans a whole range of planetary materials, from completely unmelted and unfractionated stony chondrites to highly fractionated and differentiated iron meteorites. Meteorites, and components within them, carry records of all stages of Solar System history. There are also meteorites from the Moon and from Mars that give us insights to how these bodies have formed and evolved.
In her lecture, Monica will describe how the microscope is another tool that can be employed to trace stellar and planetary processes.
About the talk
Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
About the speaker
Monica Grady is Head of the Department of Physical Sciences and Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences at the Open University (OU) in Milton Keynes. Her undergraduate studies were at the University of Durham (1976-1979) in the Departments of Chemistry and Geology, and she was a member of St Aidan’s College. Monica’s postgraduate studies were at the University of Cambridge (1979 -1983), where she completed her PhD in carbon in meteorites. She subsequently worked at the Open University (1983 - 1991) before joining the Department of Mineralogy of the Natural History Museum in London, first as a Higher Scientific Officer with responsibility for meteorites, eventually as Head of the Meteorites and Cosmic Mineralogy Division. Monica was Honorary Professor in the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London, before rejoining the OU in 2005.
Monica has led major research programmes in the study of meteorites: her research interests are in the fields of carbon and nitrogen, and one of her major areas has been in trying to understand the history of carbon and water on Mars. She has pursued this through investigation of minor components in martian meteorites, components that were formed by alteration processes on the surface of Mars. Monica is also interested in astrobiology and the possibilities of life elsewhere in the cosmos. In honour of her contributions to the field, the International Astronomical Union named Asteroid (4731) as “Monicagrady”. Monica is also an enthusiastic science communicator, and in 2003, gave the Royal Institution Christmas lectures on the theme ‘Voyage in Space and Time’. In June 2012, she was appointed a Commander in the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her services to Space Sciences.