Planetary Research

Comet Tempel 1 - Image Credit NASA

inspired by the SPACE AROUND YOU

NASA's continuing exploration of the planetary system has created many opportunities for the investigation of the geology of new worlds, from tiny cometary nuclei to giant planets in other solar systems. Seeking to extend humankind's knowledge and understanding of the nature of our neighbors in space, by extension, we are also discovering the early history of our own planet.

Affiliated Faculty & Research Area 


Jay Melosh
Jay Melosh
Distinguished Professor

Jay Melosh, Distinguished Professor, studies impact cratering and planetary tectonics:

Professor Melosh's research focuses on numerical modeling of the physics and chemistry of impacts at scales ranging from the Deep Impact event on comet Tempel 1 to the Mars-size object that impacted the Earth 4.5 billion years ago and created our Moon. He studies the exchange of microorganisms between the planets and the origin of life. He is part of NASA's DIXI mission to comet Hartly-2, the NExT return to Comet Tempel 1, and the GRAIL mission to obtain high-precision data on the lunar gravity field.

List of current projects with student research opportunities: click here

moon Impact
(Click for larger view.)
Giant Impact origin of Moon after an original painting by W. K. Hartmann.
Andrew Freed
Andrew Freed
Associate Professor

Andy and his students use finite element models to understand the tectonic evolution of impact basins and associated faulting, with projects currently focused on the Moon and Mercury. As an example, the panel on the right shows Pantheon Fossae, a pattern of radial-oriented graben that extend from the center of the Caloris impact basin on Mercury. This pattern is not observed anywhere else in our solar system. We have shown that Pantheon Fossae may have been created when the Apollodorus impact altered a pre-existing stress field associated with basin uplift.

More about Andy's research can be found at:
http://www.eas.purdue.edu/freed/

Caloris Sketch
(Click for larger view.)
Sketch map of graben radiating from the center of Caloris Basin:
Image Credit: Head et al., Science, 2008
Marc Caffee
Marc Caffee
Professor &
PRIME Lab Director

Marc Caffee, Professor and PRIME Lab Director, studies radionuclides produced by cosmic rays interactions in terrestrial and extra-terrestrial materials. Examples of the products of these high-energy reactions are 10Be, 26Al, 36Cl, and 41Ca. These radioncuclides are measured using a technique referred to as Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS). In extra-terrestrial materials, the concentration of these cosmic-ray-produced radionuclides can be used to determine how long meteors are exposed to cosmic rays and large these masses are before they collide with Earth.

As part of a project funded by NASA he is developing AMS techniques to measure other radionuclides, specifically 53Mn, in extra-terrestrial materials. Cosmic rays also produce radionuclides in Earth's atmosphere and in upper several meters of the crust. Radionuclides produced in glacially deposited boulders, for example, can be used to reconstruct glacial cycles. Projects funded by NSF in this area include one to improve our understanding of the production systematics of terrestrial cosmic-ray-produced nuclides and another project to measure cosmogenic nuclides in ice layers taken from the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS).

Tandem Van de Graff Accelerator
(Click for larger view.)
Tandem van de Graff accelerator at Purdue's PrimeLab
David Minton
David Minton
Assistant Professor

Professor Minton's research interests include understanding the origin and early evolution of the Solar System, including the formation of the planets and the Late Heavy Bombardment. Minton is also studies the physics and dynamics of small bodies and their satellites, as well as using the impact records of solar system bodies to understand the history of small body populations.

More about David can be found at:
http://www.eaps.purdue.edu/people/faculty-pages/minton.html

Briony Horgan
Briony Horgan
Assistant Professor

Prof. Horgan uses mineralogy derived from spectroscopy to study surface processes on Mars, the Moon, and the Earth. She uses satellite remote sensing supported by analog field and lab work to investigate surface weathering, soil formation, volcanism, impacts, glacial/periglacial processes, and aeolian processes.

More about Briony can be found at:
http://www.eaps.purdue.edu/people/faculty-pages/briony-horgan.html