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July 1971. Astronauts Charles Duke and John Young are preparing for their Apollo 16 mission to the Moon by carrying out field geology training in and around Sudbury. Why Sudbury? Because it’s the site of one of the world’s largest meteorite impact craters – the scar left by the collision of a 20 km diameter asteroid almost two billion years ago.
Looking at the Moon on a clear night, it’s plain to see that meteorite impact craters are the most common geological feature on Earth’s closest celestial neighbor. And by studying the craters in Sudbury, the Apollo 16 astronauts were actually preparing themselves for what they could expect on the Moon. Fast forward more than half a century and the newest cadre of astronauts are studying planetary geology for the first time since the Apollo missions.
Among these off-world explorers is astronaut Jeremy Hansen, a former Canadian Armed Forces fighter pilot who graduated from NASA Astronaut Candidate Training in 2011. Like Duke and Young, Capt. Hansen’s next small step before his giant leap is receiving hands-on field geology training on Victoria Island (or Kitlineq), a remote part of the Canadian Arctic. Thanks to collaboration between the Canadian Space Agency and Western’s Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX), Capt. Hansen will join CPSX Acting Director Gordon “Oz” Osinski and his research team from Western in the Canadian Arctic this July to investigate reports of a new suspected meteorite impact crater. Four students from Western will participate: PhD students Cassandra Marion and Raymond Francis, MSc student Annemarie Pickersgill, and undergraduate student Salma Abou-Aly.
The suspected crater was discovered by Geological Survey of Canada geologist Keith Dewing in 2010 but remains to be confirmed and is completely unexplored. The goals for Osinski and his team are to first confirm the impact nature of this site and then investigate the geology of the area, including insights that this unique site may have into crater formation.
The research team will utilize Canadian-built Radarsat-2 imagery to aid in the selection of a landing site for the Twin Otter aircraft and to identify potential sites of scientific interest. In addition to the standard tools of a geologist, such as a hammer and compass, Osinski, Capt. Hansen and the others will also use modern technologies including a LIDAR (Light Detection And Ranging), which is provided by Toronto-based Optech Inc. and a 3D stereo camera imaging system, which was designed and developed by MDA Space Missions of Brampton, Ont.