UK goes to the planets

UK goes to the planets Mars Express / Beagle 2

Dr Robin Clegg and Miss Anita Heward.
The Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC).

Mrs Natalie Bealing.
CCLRC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory.

Dr Andrew Coates.
Mullard Space Science Laboratory.

Professor Carl Murray.
Queen Mary, University of London.

Professor John Zarnecki.
The Open University.

'Where did we come from?' - a question that has troubled the human species ever since we were able to conjecture such abstract thought. Clues to the answer to this question are to be found spread around our Solar System and British science is heavily engaged in looking for them.

The year 2004 will see unprecedented activity in planetary science with an avalanche of data being sent back to Earth from a myriad of space probes and other missions setting off on epic voyages of discovery. UK science has a significant role in a wide range of missions, designing instruments, analysing results and providing new theories about the origin of life on our planet, and the possibility of life on others. New images from Mars have been pouring in since late 2003 from the European Space Agency (ESA) Mars Express mission confirming that many of the surface features on the Red Planet show that water once had a significant part in its geography. Mars Express will find out whether water is still present on Mars by using its radar, which can detect underground lakes up to 5 km below the surface, and measuring how much water has been lost into space.

The NASA/ESA Cassini-Huygens spacecraft set off for Saturn in 1997 and on July 1st this year will go into orbit around the ringed planet. Cassini will spend 4 years surveying Saturn and its moons, examining its incredibly complex ring system and launching a small probe called Huygens into Titan. Titan is the largest of Saturn's 31 known moons. Beneath its thick 'orange' atmosphere, which could resemble that of primordial Earth, there may be oceans of methane and ethane. Huygens will tell us. Images of the rings of Saturn will show the mechanisms controlling their exotic and complex organisation and could give clues to the processes that controlled the formation of the early Solar System. The UK is involved in several important experiments on Cassini including its cameras, magnetometer and plasma spectrometer and the Surface Science Package on Huygens.

In March 2004 the Rosetta spacecraft blasted off from the ESA launch base in French Guiana. It has a date with the comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko in mid- 2014. Comets are thought to contain the original building mate