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Scientists start search for planetary origins

25 January 2007

Origins, a project to study how the solar system formed, begins this month.

The Natural History Museum is leading the network of European institutions, including the Ondrejov observatory in the Czech Republic, in their quest to learn more about the beginnings of our planetary system.

The multi-disciplinary team includes cosmochemists, astrophysicists, astronomers and cosmic-mineralogists, similar to the network of scientists at NASA. The European Commission awarded a four-year 2.6 million Euro grant to the project last month.

'My European colleagues and I have been hoping to work together for several years and this grant finally gives us the chance to do this,' says Sara Russell, Museum meteorite and cosmochemistry expert who is leading the Museum's effort.

'Between us, we have some great pieces of equipment and important samples, so by collaborating we hope to make a really world-class contribution to the field of planetary sciences.'

Researchers will examine meteorite samples to find out how long the planet building process took, what the solar system environment was like before the planets formed, and how the composition of the solar system varies at different distances from the sun.

One of the world's finest collections of meteorites is looked after by the Natural History Museum and it contains around 2,000 individual specimens .