Advanced science.  Applied technology.

Planetary Science


While heliophysics researchers study environments in the plasma state, our planetary science program focuses on solid solar system bodies and their electrically neutral atmospheres. Using observational data from space- and ground-based assets and models, we investigate the origin, evolution, and current state of individual solar system objects and/or classes of objects, including Mars and Venus, asteroids, the satellites of the outer planets, and Pluto and other Trans-Neptunian Objects. A major focus of our research is on the formation and early history of our solar system, which we investigate through computer modeling and the analysis of ancient terrains, basins, and impact craters.

Our research involves:

  • Leading and/or participating in missions such as New Horizons, Juno, Lucy, Cassini, and Rosetta for the reconnaissance and exploration of the planets and smaller solar system bodies
  • Performing complex numerical simulations of the formation and dynamical evolution of the solar system
  • Observation and modeling of planetary and satellite surfaces and atmospheres/exospheres
  • Development of instrumentation for planetary exploration

Our science topics include:

  • The formation of small solar system bodies and planets
  • The migration of the giant outer planets and early bombardment
  • The origin of the Moon
  • The bombardment history of the terrestrial planets
  • Composition and structure of planetary and satellite atmospheres
  • Composition and physical properties of planetary and satellite surfaces
  • The composition and potential habitability of the interior oceans of Enceladus and Europa