We know that material from one solid body is able to travel to another as a result of a hypervelocity collision with a comet or asteroid for example. This is why fragments from the Moon and Mars have been found on the Earth. Using the Unit's two hypervelocity accelerators, this process can be simulated in the laboratory and the way in which fragments are generated and accelerated can be measured. Also it is possible to see if biological samples could survive such a process.
* Because of the Unit's traditional interest in cosmic dust, the interaction of such particles with a planetary atmosphere has been modelled to determine the likelihood of such particles being captured into orbit and ultimately finding their way to the surface. This is clearly of particular importance if the particle is carrying biological material.
* The Univ. it providing instrumentation for the penetrometer on the soon to be launched Mars '96 international mission. The penetrometer will be fired into the Martian surface. The recent findings concerning Martian meteorites lend a greater significance than previously to these measurements.
* The Unit has major involvement with instrumentation for the ESA Huygens mission, which will deliver a Probe to the surface of Titan, Saturn's largest moon. Titan has a thick atmosphere which is believed to be undergoing photochemical reactions, similar to those which took place on the primitive Earth and which were precursors for the development of life.
* The Unit has been studying impace cratering on ice, including studies of the ejected material (i.e. simulation of planetary surfaces under bombardment). This is one of the suggested mechanisms for migration of life around the Solar System.
* The Unit has developed (and deployed) techniques for intact capture
of dust and small particles in Earth orbit. An understanding of the
origin of material (planetary surface, asteroidal or cometary ejecta)
will further illuminate the mechanism of migration of material around
the Solar System.