Mars technology field-tested in Antarctica before planetary space missions

Christ Church’s Access Fellow, Dr Ben Fernando, has been testing seismometer technology in Antarctica, in preparation for its use on icy moons within the Solar System.

Originally developed for the NASA Insight mission to Mars, the short-period seismic sensor is being tested to see how it might perform in the hostile conditions found on the frozen moons of Saturn and Jupiter.

The Antarctic deployment is the first in what is hoped to be a series of extreme environment tests for the short-period sensor – a seismometer that records the high-frequency (high pitched) seismic waves generated by movement in the ice sheets.

Dr Ben Fernando said: ‘This is an incredibly exciting opportunity to test the seismometers in one of the most extreme environments on Earth, and a valuable opportunity to explore how they might perform on one of the icy moons of Saturn or Jupiter one day.’

If the sensor can withstand the punishing polar conditions it may one day play a role in the search for evidence of life on the moons of Saturn and Jupiter. The seismological recordings made by the sensor will monitor any volcanic activity on the ocean floor beneath the frozen surface, and will help study the geological composition of the moon.

Placing a seismometer in the Antarctic ice

In addition to his research on numerical high-performance computing simulations of seismic waves, Dr Ben Fernando is also Christ Church’s Access Fellow, responsible for programmes helping state school students and students from Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic backgrounds discover whether Oxford might be for them.

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