The Mössbauer Group at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU), Germany, has made a significant contribution towards the exploration of Mars during its long-term cooperation with the US space agency NASA. The Mainz research team led by Dr Göstar Klingelhöfer is now building up new contacts with the aim of cooperating with JAXA, the Japanese space agency.
It is planned to use an innovative spectrometer to determine the chemical composition of lunar material during the next Japanese Moon mission, SELENE-2. In this context Professor Nobuyuki Hasebe of Waseda University in Tokyo has been with the Mössbauer Group as a visiting professor for the past weeks. "Professor Hasebe will be working with me and my team until early August on current and planned projects to explore the solar system, especially Mars and the Moon, but also asteroids," explains Klingelhöfer, head of the Mössbauer Group. Hasebe is one of the leading researchers at the Japanese space agency and has been involved in various space missions.
As an unmanned lunar mission, SELENE-2 was originally planned for a launch in 2012, but it is postponed until 2014, probably. The researchers in Mainz will contribute a newly developed x-ray fluorescence spectrometer, which will be used to analyze in situ the elemental composition of lunar material. The SELENE-2 rover will deploy the spectrometer very close to the surface of a rock or lunar dust that is of interest to the scientists. The novel approach of the x-ray fluorescence spectrometer is the usage of a specially designed x-ray generator instead of a radioactive source. Such radioactive sources are applied by the well-known alpha particle x-ray spectrometer (APXS), also known as "the Mainz snooper." "We are currently in the development phase and are fitting a special x-ray generator to the well-approved and tested APXS used during NASA's last missions on Mars," states Klingelhöfer. The APXS was used on-board of the two Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and it is in large degree thanks to its chemical analyses that we now know that our neighboring planet once had a warm and humid climate about 4 billion years ago. As was the case with NASA's mission to Mars, Dr Johannes Brückner of the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry is also involved in the SELENE-2 project helping to design the instrument, formulating the research topics, and analyzing the data.
Even before SELENE-2 is ready for take-off, the Mainz researchers will be cooperating with their colleagues in Russia and Japan to have a closer look at the Martian moon Phobos. The question is whether Phobos is an asteroid once captured by Mars or was originally formed from orbiting Martian rocks and dust. This mission is scheduled to start at the end of 2011 and is being equipped with an advanced version of the MIMOS II, a miniature version of the Mössbauer spectrometer. Test runs were carried out about one year ago in Hawaii, where Mars-like materials can be found on the slopes of the Mauna Kea volcano. A field test was jointly carried out there by NASA and CSA, the Canadian Space Agency, to try out instruments for future space missions to Mars and Earth's Moon.
Moreover, the Mars Rover Mission, which started in the summer of 2003, is also still on-going. The rover Opportunity is now in the eighth year of its journey and is moving across the surface of the red planet in the direction of the big Endeavor crater, where it is expected to arrive in late summer or early fall. "Once it arrives there, we will be looking for specific clay minerals containing iron. We have not yet detected these minerals in situ on the Martian surface, but we are hoping to obtain additional data on rocks that make up Mars as well as information on the origin of the red planet," explains Klingelhöfer.
Klingelhöfer and his team, with their expertise in planetology and solar system research, are internationally connected. They are also involved in the "Earth and the Anthropocene" (ERA) Excellence Cluster at Mainz University, which is currently submitting a full application during the second phase of the Federal Excellence Initiative. ERA is based on the cooperation of four internationally renowned research institutions in Mainz: Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, the Max Planck Institute of Chemistry (MPIC), the Roman-Germanic Central Museum (RGZM), and the Institute for Spatial Information and Surveying Technology (i3mainz) at the Mainz University of Applied Sciences. The ERA researchers are pursuing innovative and high-level interdisciplinary approaches to earth system research by incorporating the cultural sciences into a natural science project.
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