Researcher receives $100,000 to identify potential fuel source on Mars
Press Release From: University of Arkansas
Posted: Monday June 20th 2022
Associate Professor Vincent Chevrier of the U of A Center for Space and Planetary Sciences has been awarded $100,000 to study the stability and distribution of clathrate hydrates and clathrasils on the surface of Mars in hopes of discovering a source of methane.
Identifying likely sources of methane would be a critical step in advancing Mars exploration, as methane could be used to power robotic or manned exploration. The $100,000 grant was awarded by the Arkansas Space Grant Consortium at the University of Arkansas, Little Rock, in hopes of achieving this.
Previous studies have already confirmed the presence of methane on Mars. Chevrier now hopes to identify his most likely sources. A strong possibility is that it is bound to clathrate hydrates, an ice-like substance found both above and below the planet’s shallow subsurface. Clathrate hydrates contain water molecules with cage-like spaces that can trap gases, including methane. The Clathrasils present another possible reservoir of methane. They are compounds related to silica but have crystal structures similar to clathrates. Large deposits of nearly pure silica have also been discovered on Mars by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars.
Although clathrasils are rare on Earth and there is no direct evidence of their presence on Mars, Chevrier believes that the presence of clathrates, as well as deposits of pure silica, are promising indicators that clathrasils could also be present in sufficient quantities to warrant an investigation.
In short, Chevrier has two promising leads in his attempt to find potential sources of methane on Mars. The primary goal of the grant will be to identify the most promising sources, locations, and abundances of these compounds, and in doing so, map points for further exploration. Since methane clathrates are more stable at higher pressures and lower temperatures, Chevrier will focus his attention on the polar caps, as well as likely subterranean areas where high pressures prevail. Most of the grant will be used to support a postdoctoral student, Abhilash Ramachandran.
“This grant will allow us to begin providing clues about resource availability and accessibility for future human exploration on Mars,” Chevrier said. “The presence of energy sources would be extremely valuable for future astronauts establishing a first colony on another planetary surface.”
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