A GROUP of planetary experts from across Scotland – which aims to expand our understanding of the universe and the place of humankind within it – has met at the University of Stirling.

The Scottish Planetary Science Research Network (SPERO) – comprising geologists, chemists, planetary scientists, engineers, astrobiologists, physicists and mathematicians – gathered at the Pathfoot Building on Thursday.

The group’s second meeting came as Stirling expanded its team that specialises in analysing environmental conditions on other planets, predominantly Mars.

Dr Christian Schröder, Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of Natural Sciences, has recently been joined by Alastair Tait, Rutherford Fellow; Dr Axel Hagermann, Associate Professor; Dr Nicholas Attree, Research Fellow; and Dr Erika Kaufmann, Research Fellow. They are bring their research together in the Stirling Centre for Astromaterials Research (SCAR).

Dr Schröder is the only UK scientist working on the Mars Exploration Opportunity mission and his recent work has included geochemical investigations of sites on the Red Planet where water was once present.

He also studies meteorites and his research is relevant for the ESA ExoMars 2020 rover.

Dr Tait’s specialism also lies in the study of meteorites and, along with Dr Schröder, is making the case for collecting a meteorites on Mars to be returned to Earth in a Mars sample return endeavour that will start with the NASA Mars 2020 rover mission.

Dr Hagermann, a geophysicist who focuses on ice and its physical properties, is currently working on the NASA InSight lander mission and will be involved in assessing data from the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe, better known as HP3.

This work aims to piece together the story behind Mars’ origin and evolution by measuring the heat currently escaping through the surface of Mars.

Dr Attree, who was previously involved in modelling heat flow in cold environments for the Rosetta mission, will also work with Dr Hagermann on InSight.

Meanwhile, Dr Kaufmann runs the Planetary Ices laboratory at Stirling – using equipment to re-create environmental conditions on Mars.

Dr Christian Schröder said: “It is a great pleasure to host the second meeting of the Scottish Planetary Science Research Network.

"It brings together like-minded scientists from Scottish universities and other organisations to tackle issues of profound importance in planetary science.

“SPERO works across three themes – planetary processes, building solar systems and habitats beyond earth – and ultimately we want to know: who we are, where we came from, and what the future has in store for humanity.”

He added: “The SPERO meeting coincides with the recent expansion of our team here at Stirling, reinforcing the University’s strength in the area of planetary science.”

SPERO comprises experts from the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre; the Universities of Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, St Andrews, Strathclyde, Stirling; the National Museum Scotland; the Hunterian Museum; as well as associated space agencies, research councils and museums. Richard Jenner, Director of the Glasgow Prestwick Spaceport initiative, was a guest speaker at the event.

For more information on SPERO, visit: spero.ac.uk