On the eve of the 45th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, held the week of 17 March 2014 in Houston, Texas, by the Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI), Nature Geoscience published a paper on the extent of Mercury’s global contraction headed by DTM visiting investigator and former postdoctoral fellow, Paul Byrne, along with MESSENGER colleagues, Christian Klimczak, Celâl Şengör, Sean C. Solomon, Thomas R. Watters, and Steven A. Hauck, II. The paper described the process of mapping the folds and faults across Mercury’s surface using images the MESSENGER spacecraft has collected during its decade in orbit. By doing this, Byrne et al. were able to observe that Mercury has contracted by as much as seven kilometers across its radius throughout the past four billion years, a much higher number than originally believed.
Klimczak expressed that the most rewarding part of the conference for him was seeing data from the MESSENGER spacecraft presented not only by members of its science team, but also by other scientists, who are now using the data to further their own research on Mercury and other planets.
As the MESSENGER team witnessed the spacecraft’s data circulate the conference, DTM Director Lindy Elkins-Tanton was also making her rounds to forge new relationships and gain support amongst the scientific community for her future mission to orbit the metal planetoid Psyche. During Psyche’s poster session, many people expressed their eagerness to join the growing science team, and even attributed their own tidbits of interesting information that will be useful to the team, “like results from unpublished cratering experiments into metal,” said Elkins-Tanton. She hopes the data from this mission will “change the way we look at accretion of planets and core formation, and the way we understand the early solar system to have been structured.”
Throughout the week, more than two thousand of the world’s brightest minds in petrology, geochemistry, geophysics, geology, and astronomy gathered at the space hub of our nation to discuss their latest planetary research. Amongst them were DTM staff scientists, postdocs, and visiting investigators including Lindy Elkins-Tanton, Larry Nittler, Conel Alexander, Alan Boss, Jemma Davidson, Christian Klimczak, Paul Byrne, Shoshana Weider, and Aki Takigawa, who gave 12 presentations on a variety of topics. Their talks ranged from chondrites in Antarctica; planetary maps of Mercury and the Moon; presolar grains in unequilibrated ordinary chondrites; rotating presolar clouds; and to future missions to far-out planetoids.
From the revolutionary data on Mercury’s actual global contraction, to the prospect of what a mission to Psyche could bring to light about our Solar System, and all things in-between, DTM has proven to be one the leading scientific institutions in the world because of discoveries like these.