Monica Grady is Professor of Planetary and Space Sciences at the Open University. She has been studying meteorites – chunks from asteroids (and the Moon and Mars) that land on Earth – for more than forty years. She specialises in investigating carbon and nitrogen in the samples and is particularly interested in what meteorites from Mars can reveal about the chances of life on Mars.
Traditionally, astronomers study stars and planets by telescope. However, we can also learn about them by using a microscope, through studying meteorites.
Meteorites are fragments of ancient material, natural objects that survive their fall to Earth from space. Some are metallic, but most are made of stone. They are the oldest objects that we have for study. Almost all meteorites are fragments from asteroids, and were formed at the birth of the Solar System, approximately 4567 million years ago. They show a compositional variation that spans a whole range of planetary materials, from completely unmelted and unfractionated stony chondrites to highly fractionated and differentiated iron meteorites. Meteorites, and components within them, carry records of all stages of Solar System history. From meteorites, we can learn about the processes and materials that shaped the Solar System and our planet. Tiny grains within meteorites have come from other stars, giving information about the stellar neighbourhood in which the Sun was born. Some meteorites contain organic compounds – materials which might have helped life on Earth to get started. There are also meteorites from the Moon and from Mars that give us insights to how these bodies have formed and evolved.
In her lecture, Monica will describe how the microscope is another tool that can be employed to trace stellar and planetary processes.
Professor Monica M Grady CBE was awarded the 2022 prize for her significant contributions to the field of planetary science, and her dedication and enthusiasm for public engagement, particularly in raising the profile of STEM subjects for young women.