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The perils of planetary geology: why no one should ever complain about mapping in Britain and Ireland

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Charlie Eardley.

Geology rocks, but there are times when it can be a bit of a drag, like mapping in the wind and rain. What if you could do geology where rain doesn’t fall and the wind never blows, such as the Moon or Mercury? What then?

With only a few notable exceptions, geologists have no field observations of the planetary bodies in the solar system and beyond. We must rely on remote sensing techniques and our understanding of the Earth to study these fascinating and varied bodies. In this scenario, nobody is likely to get wet and chilly, but maybe the long list of health warnings that comes with planetary geology will make you break out in a cold sweat after all.

Technical problems include yawning data gaps, tantalising image resolutions, unhelpful illumination that makes mountains disappear, instruments going blind and the ultimate hitch of mission failures. But there are geological and philosophical problems too, such as horrific sampling biases, the difficulty in dating planetary surfaces, the unfamiliar landforms on extraterrestrial bodies and the ‘baggage’ that comes into space with us from Earth.

In this talk, I will outline how planetary scientists overcome these issues with a focus on my own PhD work on Mercury, with extra examples from throughout the solar system.

This talk is part of the Sedgwick Club talks series.

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