Adopt A Scientist: The Makeup of Mesmerizing Mars

August 21, 2008
by the SETI Institute

What is Mars made of? Dust and many kinds of rock, for sure. But Dr. Janice Bishop, who is both a chemist and planetary scientist, is trying to learn more about the Red Planet's makeup by studying the spectral behavior of other materials that might be found there. Her group is analyzing pure minerals, rocks from potential Mars analog field sites, and meteorites that are rocks from Mars. Spectroscopy is a means of identifying compounds by the specific wavelengths of light they reflect, and her expertise in this hi-tech "fingerprinting" scheme has led to her participation in the research programs of many of today's robotic Mars explorers. These include NASA's new Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the highly successful and peripatetic Exploration Rovers, and Europe's Mars Express.

Janice's most recent publication appeared in Science August 8, 2008: "Phyllosilicate Diversity and Past Aqueous Activity Revealed at Mawrth Vallis, Mars." She's the first author for a study that analyzed data from CRISM (Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer) on board the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. They found evidence of past activity of water on Mars in the clay mineral signatures recorded by CRISM.

Janice has also made investigations into how particles of iron oxide (also known as rust) might have been critically important in life's early days, before an ozone layer could protect biology from the searing ultraviolet rays of the Sun. Small iron oxide particles could have operated as "sunshades" for these ancient microbes, letting infrared and visible light through (so photosynthesis could occur), while blocking the damaging ultraviolet. There was a time, billions of years ago, when living in the rust belt was a good thing. In addition, experiments with iron oxides in Janice's lab are geared toward understanding the magnetic properties of the Martian dust. More information on Janice's research, please visit our website.

Experience a Mars-like Expedition - only Better!

Would you like to help investigate solfataric alteration on volcanic islands? Join Janice for a week in the spectacular wilds of Iceland, or the splendid landscapes of Santorini or Hawaii, investigating an analog site for Mars. You'll get to experience sulfur vents up close and personal, while participating in sample collection and in situ spectral measurements.

Some locations are a bit remote and require a hike with a heavy backpack. The scenery, however, is almost always breathtaking.

SETI Institute's Adopt a Scientist Program

Anyone can adopt a SETI Institute scientist and become part of the adventure!

Each of our scientists offers a compelling journey of discovery. When you adopt a scientist, you help lead the way towards answering profound questions regarding our place in the universe. You can form a one-on-one relationship and participate in the process of ground-breaking science with any number of our Institute's scientists. In an effort to ensure that this vital research continues to prosper, our Adopt a Scientist Program invites you to make a direct contribution to the field.

There are many levels of commitment starting as low as $1,000, and payment plans are available.

For more information on the Adopt a Scientist program please visit our website, email Karen Randall at or call Karen at 650-960-4537.