Macquarie University Planetary Research Centre

Macquarie University Planetary Research Centre

Macquarie University Planetary Research Centre

Bringing together leading researchers in planetary research to address fundamental problems in planetary science and exploration.

Planetary science is by its nature a hybrid discipline. It encapsulates basic physics and astronomy, geology, geophysics, geochemistry, cosmochemistry, and remote sensing of planetary surfaces, including Earth. Additionally, engineering underpins many of the practical aspects of planetary science, from instrumentation, to communications, and space and robotic technologies.

The centre’s primary focus is to bring together these cross-disciplinary streams under an overarching research theme – the exploration, analysis, and monitoring of planets, including Earth, to understand their formation and evolution.

Mars Viking

This incorporates both upstream fundamental research in planetary evolution, and downstream applications in engineering and technology development, including the intersection of engineering and remote sensing/geophysical instrumentation, and in Earth monitoring.

This focus will be realised by promoting activities that encourage the development of the cross-stream research directions, including:

  • supporting regular invited speakers from each discipline for centre-wide seminars
  • organising a planetary science workshop/symposium each year, to promote planetary science applications nationally, and enhance the visibility of the centre
  • support the development of cross-department student projects, at the HDR, MRes, and undergraduate internship levels, to further cross-disciplinary research
  • provide administrative and logistical support for both competitive grant applications, and in particular for competitive fellowship applicants
  • supporting student development and conference attendance.

Image courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech.

Our research strengths

The Macquarie University Planetary Research Centre is a collaboration between the Departments of Earth and Planetary Science, Physics and Astronomy, Environmental Sciences, and Engineering. The Centre brings together leading researchers in these areas to address fundamental problems in planetary science and exploration.

The plethora of planetary discoveries over the since the 1990s, largely due to Kepler, and set to continue with missions such as TESS, has revolutionised our understanding of planetary systems. These discoveries have come with advances in space telescope technology, something Macquarie is involved in from large-scale NASA-funded next generation telescopes, to smaller CubeSat-scale space telescopes, to robust failure-tolerant space hardware.

Ultimately the prime question regarding exoplanets is whether they are habitable. This question is poorly known, as it depends on the relationship between the planet's evolution, atmosphere, and deep interior processes. Indeed, a large proportion of Earth-like candidates fall somewhere between Earth and Neptune's size - representing a population of which we have no solar system analogues.

The critical knowledge gap in the understanding of planets is knowledge of their deep interior - a field Macquarie has developed significant strength in. A recent $11M expansion of the ESS High-pressure facility, including new Multi-anvil presses capable of reaching 25GPa, give us a new window into the conditions of deep planetary interiors. This is complemented by the high pressure/high temperature Macquarie facility at the Australian Synchrotron, which provides in-situ studies under extreme conditions. The development of next-generation software tools for simulating interior processes allow us to simulate processes in planetary interiors. Further, an internationally recognised geochemical laboratory, Macquarie Geoanalytical (MQGA), allow us to characterise the chemical makeup of planetary building blocks. Together, they make Macquarie an ideal site for a national hub in Deep Planetary Processes.

At the same time, our ongoing research capability, and ability to contribute and engage with Australia's rapidly developing space industry, requires us to develop our existing strength in that arena. Macquarie has experience in space instrumentation and CubeSat payloads and launches - and the Planetary Centre will bring that experience under one umbrella to accelerate our high-profile orbital science.

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