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Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences

The Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences has a great diversity of programs and intersecting disciplines, with faculty and students studying in fields such as Tectonics, Geophysics, Atmospheric Dynamics and Chemistry, Environmental Sciences, Biogeochemistry, Climate Change, Severe Weather, Planetary Sciences, Astrobiology, Data Science, and many other areas. We are committed to strategic initiatives in Diversity and Inclusion, Education, Interconnections between the Earth’s interior and surface, climate and sustainability, planetary exploration and spacecraft missions, and the development of emerging fields of study.

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Asteroid material deposited during large impacts record the moon’s ancient magnetic field

The moon has no core dynamo magnetic field, but spacecraft detect numerous strong localized magnetic fields in the crust of the moon. Many of these magnetic anomalies are antipodal to large impact basins. Scientists at Purdue University and the University of California, Santa Cruz, led by Brandon Johnson, Purdue associate professor of earth, atmospheric, and planetary sciences, ran impact simulations that showed that during oblique impact, ejected material piles up at the impact antipode. This antipodal ejecta may be several-hundred meters thick. Much of this ejecta is impactor material, which may contain iron or other minerals that can become magnetized. The authors found that this material is heated by the impact shockwave and remains warm enough to cool after it lands and records the moon’s ancient magnetic field. Using the strength of these anomalies and the calculated abundance of impactor material, they found that the moon’s magnetic field had a strength of 40-73 μT at the time large impact basins were forming about 4 billion years ago.

Space dust analysis could solve mystery of the origins of Earth’s water

An international team of scientists may have solved a key mystery about the origins of the Earth’s water, after uncovering persuasive new evidence pointing to an unlikely culprit - the Sun. Professor Michelle Thompson is a co-author of this international research.

EAPS graduate student Dara Laczniak receives multiple awards for planetary science research

Dara Laczniak, a fourth-year PhD candidate in planetary science, had an award-winning summer. She received a 2021 Amelia Earhart Fellowship from Zonta International, a 2021 NASA FINESST Fellowship, and the Meteoritical Society’s 2021 Wiley Award that recognizes outstanding graduate student talks at the annual Meteoritical Society Meeting.

Studying Moon volcanoes to find breathable air and fuel for lunar bases

Volcanic eruptions are a breathtaking demonstration of the power and forces that lie beneath the surface of a planet. Volcanoes erupt molten magma from a planet’s interior, and can gush to produce lava flows or explode to create ash. Volcanic eruptions and deposits can tell us about the interiors of planets — how they formed, their structure, and their composition. Check out Dr. Briony Horgan's first-person account of lunar research on this medium.com article.

Perseverance’s first major successes on Mars – an update from mission scientists

In the short time since NASA’s Perseverance rover landed in Mars’ Jezero Crater on Feb. 18, 2021, it’s already made history. At the moment, Mars and the Earth are on opposite sides of the Sun, and the two planets cannot communicate with each other. After working nonstop for the past 216 Martian days, the science teams are taking the first real break since the mission started. We are two members of the Perseverance team, and with the rover hunkered down for the 20 days of conjunction, it is the perfect time to step back and reflect on the mission thus far. This Conversation piece was created by Dr. Briony Horgan, EAPS, and Dr. Melissa Rice, Western Washington University.

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