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Strock talk topic: New discoveries from the Red Planet

January 23, 2014

Strock talk topic: New discoveries from the Red Planet

Jan. 23, 2014

Profesor Darby Dyar
Professor Darby Dyar (Photo courtesy Mount
Holyoke College)

A scientist involved with the team of specialists analyzing the surface of Mars using data from the Curiosity Rover will deliver the annual Lester W. Strock Lecture Tuesday, Jan. 28, at Skidmore College.

Darby Dyar, professor of astronomy and geology and chair of the Astronomy Department at Mount Holyoke College, will discuss “A Year in the Life of Curiosity on Mars: New Discoveries from the Red Planet” at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 28, in Gannett Auditorium, Palamountain Hall. Admission is free and open to the public.

Dyar is one of the scientists using the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity’s Chemistry and Camera (ChemCam) to search Martian minerals for hydrogen and water. In a December 2012 interview with, she explained that one of her interests as a geochemist is trying to understand “how hydrogen, in particular, and oxygen are distributed between minerals in places in our solar system. I try to determine things like what controlled how much hydrogen ended up in which bodies in the beginning, and then what controlled how hydrogen and oxygen are recycled over geologic time.”

She added, “I’m a specialist in thinking about how hydrogen evolved on planets. That’s pretty important for the Mars Science Laboratory, because it’s important to not just have people who know Mars inside out, but people who can relate the Mars results to other planets, especially Earth.”

The key to learning about life on Mars? Follow the water. Said Dyar, “Understanding the history of water on Mars is really the next closest question to understanding where did life evolve on Mars. Follow the water means go to the place where life could have formed.”

Dyar specializes in understanding how hydrogen and oxygen are distributed throughout the solar system, particularly in terrestrial bodies such as the Earth, the moon, Mars, and the parent bodies of meteorites. She uses several different types of spectroscopy to study rocks that originated from 90-to 0-km depth in the Earth, as well as lunar rocks and Martian meteorite samples collected from Antarctica.

On her Mount Holyoke web page, Dyar said, “The most important goal of my research program is to involve students in the educational process of scientific thinking and problem-solving.”

A graduate of Wellesley College who earned a Ph.D. at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dyar said she has been “interested in planetary science since graduate school, when part of my Ph.D. thesis was spent working for NASA on glass in lunar soils.  I can never forget the first time I held a lunar sample in my hand and looked up at a full moon in the sky. I find it pretty incredible that we have succeeded in getting our hands on (literally) rocks from the moon in spite of the vastness of the solar system.”

Skidmore’s annual Lester W. Strock Lecture in Geosciences was endowed by the late Dr. Lester W. Strock, a Pennsylvania-born geochemist and the world's foremost authority on Saratoga's mineral springs. Strock, who died in 1982, spent much of his distinguished career in research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and with the Sylvania Electric Co.


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