Maps for future space missions
The European research programme Horizon 2020 is providing PlanMap with €1.5 million in funding over 36 months. The aim is to produce informative geological maps for future European space missions, in particular. These could be used to find a suitable landing site on the moon’s south pole, or to estimate the size of mineral deposits on the planets.
Existing maps are often based on information from the 1970s
Scientists like Angelo Pio Rossi believe that this highly complex data, collected using a wide range of technologies, contains a wealth of information. Existing maps are often based on material from the 1970s. “We have access to more advanced technology and a lot more data than in the 1970s,” Rossi explains. Hyperspectral imaging systems, for example, can measure electromagnetic radiation in great detail and tell us far more about surface composition than photographs do. The existing data just needs to be standardised and merged – but that is not as easy as it sounds. The scientists have to consider the basis and the method used to capture data, and also how precise this data is.
Many things are unknown, unlike on earth
This is of interest not only for European space exploration, but also for geologists. Mars and Mercury, for example, are mostly unknown territory. Unlike on earth, where countless rock samples have been taken, there are at best a few small samples from either of those planets. The conclusions that can be drawn from them are limited. “We already know a lot about our own planet, but we’re still right at the beginning where these two planets are concerned,” Rossi says.
Like a lost city in the Sahara
The 42-year-old, whose family is originally from Italy, is fascinated by the geology of distant planets. “It’s like a treasure that you may discover but cannot touch. There are processes happening there that have been undisturbed for millions, if not billions, of years. Everything is ancient, but it’s still there – just like a lost city in the Sahara,” he says. Rossi first came into contact with space exploration as a PhD student at the European Space Administration (ESA). He is now the professor of earth and planetary science at Jacobs University, an English-speaking establishment in Bremen, and over the coming three years he will coordinate the merging and processing of PlanMap’s data. The plan is to collate and document the current status of research, and to produce maps and 2D and 3D geological models. It has already become clear that more time is needed: “This will take longer than three years. Mapping is a slow process that takes time.”