How do collisions of rocks with planets help planets evolve? 8 August

Australian Institute of Physics

Hobart, Devonport, Launceston

Planetary scientist Katarina Miljkovic is available to discuss the nature of planets in Hobart this week. It’s part of a national tour of public and school talks promoting opportunities for women in physics. Her free public lecture on Tuesday 9 August is part of National Science Week.

The planets in our solar system are vastly different although they all formed from the same cloud of gas and dust around a star – our sun. Why is this?

Associate Professor Katarina Miljkovic thinks the answers lie in studying how asteroids, comets and meteors bombarded the planets in the past, changing the surface conditions.

She works at Curtin University’s Space Science and Technology Centre and School of Earth and Planetary Sciences and uses data from several NASA missions.

“Space is not empty, and we always have rocks from space hitting planetary bodies,” says Katarina.

“Tiny collisions and large-scale impact events helped shape the planets.”

The Earth is hit by a few larger objects, and tens of thousands of smaller meteors per day. Some of them are pieces of other planets.

Katarina was a co-author on a recent paper that traced the source of a Mars meteorite that crashed into Africa. The team identified the crater on Mars that was the source of the meteorite and showed that it was made of ancient Mars crust.

Deep impact

Katarina will talk about impact events, planetary evolution and more in her free talks to schools, universities, and the general public around Australia.

She will explain how she uses computer modelling to understand the mechanics of how large rocks hit the surface of planets, setting off quakes and forming craters. She will also describe how her modelling compares with the data she gets from billion-dollar space missions.

“Receiving data from space is a heck of a job,” according to the planetary scientist, who often receives data that no-one has seen before.

Most recently Katarina has been working with the NASA InSight mission to analyse data about quakes from an instrument onboard a robotic explorer parked on the surface of Mars.

She hopes the data will also give important information about the interior structure of the planet.

Katarina’s talks are part of her responsibilities after winning the 2022 Women in Physics Lectureship. The lectureship is awarded annually by the Australian Institute of Physics to recognise significant contributions by a woman to advancing physics.

Katarina’s talk tour started at the end of May and runs through to September at venues in NSW, ACT, QLD, VIC, TAS, SA, and WA.

Tasmanian events

Katarina will be giving a free public talk on Tuesday 9 August at the University of Tasmania (Sandy Bay Campus), 8pm. All are welcome. The talk is a registered National Science Week event.

She will also be giving private talks to college and high school students in Hobart, Devonport, and Launceston from Monday 8 August – Tuesday 9 August.

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