Astrophysicists at the University of Central Florida (UCF) have developed a standardized and scientifically based method to create Martian soil and asteroid simulants. The team – which sells its product at $ 20 per kilo, plus shipping – has published its findings this month in the Icarus magazine.
"The simulant is useful for research, since we expect to go to Mars," said physics professor Dan Britt, a member of the Planetary Science Group at UCF. "If we are going to go, we will need food, water and other essentials, and as we develop solutions, we need a way to test how these ideas will develop."
For example, scientists who seek ways to grow food on Mars They need to test their techniques on the ground that most resemble the circumstances on Mars. "He will not want to find out that his method does not work when we're actually there," Britt said in a statement, adding, "What would you do then? It takes years to get there."
The UCF formula is based on the chemical signature of the soils on Mars collected by the Curiosity rover. Britt built two calibration targets that were part of the Curiosity rover. Researchers currently use simulants that are not standardized, so any experiment can not be compared to another, Britt said.
Kevin Cannon, the lead author of the article and a postdoctoral researcher working with Britt at UCF, says there's different types of soil on Mars and on asteroids. On Earth, for example, we have black sand, white sand, clay and topsoil, to name a few. In other worlds, there could be carbon-rich soils, clay-rich soils and salt-rich soils, he added.
"With this technique, we can produce many variations," Cannon said. "Most of the minerals we need are on Earth, although some are very difficult to obtain."
Britt and Cannon believe that there is a market for the simulant. At $ 20 per kilogram, plus shipping costs, it may be easier to send an order to UCF than to try it in laboratories across the country. The team already has About 30 pending orders, including a half-ton from the Kennedy Space Center.