Mars and exploration of the Solar System
The Mars-group has this name because we have established a long tradition of practical exploration of Mars by participation in NASA's missions to the Martian surface. However, in the group we are generally interested in the evolution of planets, moons and minor bodies in the Solar System - and we try to make use of any opportunity provided by the international science community and space agencies to participate in research shedding light on aspects of planetary origin and evolution.
One question of particular current interest for us is the origin and history of water on Mars. This ranges from how water was brought to the planet in the first place (planetary accretion and/or comet impacts) and what influence water has had on the evolution of the surface of Mars.
Water on Mars
Cometary impacts may have provided the water and energy necessary to maintain a relatively dense atmosphere on Mars, sufficient to allow liquid water to be active in eroding the surface leaving traces until today. The oldest surfaces on Mars which carry evidence for past water are also the ones overprinted with the craters from the Late Heavy Bombardment. Researchers at the University of Nice have developed a detailed orbital-dynamics model that explains the origin of the Late Heavy Bombardment - the traces of which we still see in the cratered surfaces of the Moon and Mars. The latest versions of the model predict a bombardment primarily by ice-rich comets from the outer solar system. Both the Earth and Mars would therefore have received a significant amount of water with the impactors together with episodic violent heating. Each impact would have delivered water and other volatiles to the planet as well as a pulse of heat that allowed temperatures to stay above freezing and a water cycle to operate for an extended period of time. We will study this hypothesis by modeling the climate on Mars during and after an intense cometary bombardment.
Another question is the influence of water on the detailed composition of minerals on the surface, particularly in soils and dust. Mars' characteristic reddish color is primarily due to fine dust particles. The mineralogical composition and morphology of these nano-sized crystallites reflect their process of formation and subsequent alteration in the Martian environment and therefore they carry information about the role of aqueous alteration in both past and present conditions on Mars.
MSL - NASA's Curiosity Mars Rover
NASA's Curiosity rover also known as Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) landed successfully August 5th, 2012 in Gale crater, Mars, where ancient sediments has been studied in detail. Results have shown that rivers once flowed here leading into an ancient lake which once hosted a habitable environment. Curiosity is now (2015) on its way onto the lower layers of the central mound, Mount Sharp, in the middle of Gale crater.