The exploration of planetary surfaces is a large part of current international efforts to explore the Solar System, and ISSET includes planetary materials research to assist in those efforts. Planetary materials include meteorites – tangible samples of asteroids, the Moon and Mars, Apollo samples of the Moon, interplanetary dust particles, and cometary samples from the NASA Stardust mission. Many of the same geologic processes recorded in planetary materials will be encountered during robotic or human exploration of planetary surfaces.
The University of Alberta is home to active planetary materials research, and the second largest collection of planetary materials in Canada, including samples of Mars and various asteroid types.
The recent acquisition of pristine samples of the Tagish Lake meteorite, a rare type that represents processes occurring in the early Solar System 4.6 billion years ago, provides an unprecedented opportunity to investigate low-temperature components, including organic molecules that formed in the early Solar System. Its pristine nature (frozen and relatively uncontaminated by terrestrial molecules) demands the same type of sample handling as samples returned by robotic or human missions. The combination of world-class analytical facilities in existence or in the process of installation in several Departments and the National Institute for Nanotechnology and the Alberta Meteorite Collection is unequalled in Canada.