NAME: Nicola Mari
BACKGROUND: I’m an unusual guy that does research about unusual things. I like astronomy and geology and am actually doing a Ph.D. in Martian Geology in the United Kingdom (UK), analyzing Martian meteorites. During my life, I have acted like a “modern Indiana Jones,” having a great and continuous spirit of adventure and exploration of remote places where I could find some interesting and peculiar geological samples or, if I’m lucky, a new piece of extraterrestrial material that can easily reveal processes in the cosmos. My other hobbies are filmmaking and gaming/game development.
PROJECT TITLE: “The formation and evolution of the Martian mantle: a Martian meteorite perspective”
AREA OF EXPERTISE: Planetary Geology, Martian Geology, Volcanology, Magmatology, Geochemistry, Cosmochemistry, Exoplanets
TIMELINE: 3 years
LOCATION: University of Glasgow (UK)
What’s the purpose of your project?
I do research on the formation and evolution of Mars, in particular of its mantle. In order to do this, I actually analyze real pieces that came from Mars, basically Martian meteorites. These samples represent basaltic lava erupted on Mars which can give me a large amount of information regarding the Martian mantle (for example, its chemistry and thermodynamics). Constraining the formation and evolution of this small red planet can give me precious information about how these types of terrestrial planets form and evolve in the Solar System and in exoplanetary systems.
How are you setting up and testing your project?
Initially, I need the actual Martian samples which are not easy to obtain. In order to obtain mine, I use the Martian material in collaboration with NASA and national museums. Then, in order to obtain information on the Martian mantle, I divide my project into four different parts: (1) extrapolating the temperature of the Martian mantle by analyzing and using olivines as special geothermometers; (2) revealing how many chemically different mantle reservoirs are present on Mars and the actual composition of the mantle by analyzing osmium isotopes and highly siderophile elements in Martian lava flows; (3) by finding the oxygen fugacity (oxydation state) of the Martian mantle with experimental petrology methods; and (4) by constraining the amount of volatiles (H2O, Cl, F) in the mantle with chemical analysis of amphiboles in Martian meteorites, and potentially trying to infer from where the water present in the Martian interior came from in the Solar System.
Any results yet?
Until now I may have potentially found the temperature of the Martian mantle during the Late Amazonian (around 500 million years ago) – I just need to check that all the results are okay. Also, I’m in the process of acquiring isotope data, and for now, I’m seeing that the Martian mantle seems to be more chemically differentiated than previously thought!
Further exciting discoveries coming soon…
What has been the most interesting/challenging (include lessons learned)?
Until now the most challenging situation was the phase of acquiring osmium isotope data. This was the first time I worked with wet chemistry. Also, all the processes of chemical extraction (it takes around 3 weeks) was very hard and dangerous (I risked to lose extremely precious pieces of Mars every second!). But it was also very nice: I crushed pieces of Mars for science!
How will this project help society?
I think that the future of mankind will be split between Earth and Mars. If we don’t study this small red planet starting now, it will be impossible to live there one day. And Mars is only the first step.