Western planetary geologist and NASA team for out-of-this-world student experience

One of Canada’s top planetary geologists is teaming with NASA to provide an out-of-this-world experience for graduate students all this week, exploring impact craters in northern Ontario.

Gordon “Oz” Osinski, Associate Director of Western University’s Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX), is leading an intensive six-day course in Sudbury, Ontario through Friday, October 4. The 2013 Impact Cratering Short Course and Field School is organized and sponsored by the Canadian Lunar Research Network, the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute and the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

Each course day features approximately three hours of lecture material in the morning, followed by field excursions and/or hands-on laboratory sessions in the afternoons.

Osinski, who also serves as NSERC/MDA/CSA Industrial Research Chair in Planetary Geology, is introducing students to the processes and products of impact cratering on Earth and analogously throughout the solar system. Sudbury is home to a 200km-plus diameter impact structure formed 1.85 billion years ago.

“Impact cratering is one of the most fundamental, yet poorly understood, geological processes in the solar system,” explains Osinski. “On many planets, impact craters are the dominant geological landform. On Earth, erosion, plate tectonics and volcanic resurfacing continually destroy the impact cratering record, but even here, the geological, biological, and environmental effects of impact cratering are apparent.”

“As NASA celebrates 55 years of space exploration, training the next generation of scientists is obviously vital to our future,” says Greg Schmidt, Deputy Director of NASA’s Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute. “Partnerships like the one we have with Canada through Western University provide a great opportunity for students to learn in the field while strengthening our own important ties with international researchers and collaborators.”

Impact events are destructive and have been linked to at least one of the “big five” mass extinctions over the past 540 million years. In recent years, it has also become apparent that impact craters can have beneficial effects: many impact craters are associated with economic metalliferous ore deposits and hydrocarbon reservoirs. Impact events can also create new biological niches, which can provide favourable conditions for the survival and evolution of life, potentially including other planets like Mars.

Osinski will be tweeting during the course from his personal Twitter account: @drcrater