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Planetary Science

Pluto
The rotations of Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars

Planetary Systems

We use observations of populations of solar system objects and their orbits to study the formation and evolution of planetary and satellite systems to understand how our Solar System and others developed through time.

Rock formations

Planetary Surfaces

We study the mineralogic, climatic, and tectonic evolution of planetary surfaces to understand how these environments have developed over time, and the potential for past and future habitability on and beneath planetary surfaces.

Asteroid impact in color

Asteroid Impacts

We study the complete evolution of impact craters, from excavation to transient crater collapse, through cooling and viscoelastic relaxation. We also study the hazards produced by impacts and how we might prevent them.

Spacecraft mission

Spacecraft Missions

Our group has been and continues to be involved with a number of spacecraft missions, including GRAIL, MESSENGER, Deep Impact, NExT, EPOCH, EPOXI, Mars Odyssey, Mars Science Laboratory, and the Mars2020 rover.

Planetary Science News

Moons of Mars: New theory for their past and future
12-24-2021
As soon as the moons of Mars were discovered by the American astronomer Asaph Hall in 1877, scientific curiosity went into overdrive to answer the age-old question that drives children and scientists alike: Why? Researchers have long asked: Why are they there, and how did they form? We’re exploring those angles plus another aspect: Where are they heading? Dr. David Minton, Purdue EAPS professor, reports about Mars moons on Medium.

An Earth-Like Axial Tilt Might Be Necessary for Complex Life to Arise
12-20-2021
Earth has numerous properties that make it an ideal home for life as we know it, including a robust magnetic field that deflects radiation, a temperate climate with liquid water, a large moon that stabilizes the planet’s rotation, and a modest axial tilt. That last item may be more important than we previously thought, according to a new study funded by NASA. The study suggests that a tilted axis leads to more oxygen production, and that means more complex life. Dr. Stephanie Olson of EAPS is cited in this article by 24Tech.

Purdue University research highlights from 2021
12-20-2021
Purdue’s faculty helped to advance key research that improves our work, health and world. Enjoy a roundup of Purdue research news from 2021 including Purdue planetary scientist Dr. Briony Horgan has several key leadership roles for the Mars rover mission.

Perseverance rover makes 'completely unexpected' volcanic discovery on Mars
12-17-2021
Lava once flowed at the site of an ancient lake on Mars. The Perseverance rover landed on the planet just 10 months ago, but it has already made that surprising discovery. The rover's latest finding suggests that the bedrock it has been driving over since landing was once formed by volcanic lava flows -- something that was "completely unexpected," according to mission scientists. Previously, they thought the layered rocks Perseverance took photos of were sedimentary. Dr. Briony Horgan of Purdue EAPS is cited in this article by CNN.

USRA Announces 2021 Distinguished Undergraduate Award Recipients
12-09-2021
Universities Space Research Association proudly announced today the winners of the prestigious 2021 USRA Distinguished Undergraduate Awards. In keeping with its goal to recognize and develop promising future scientists in space-related disciplines, USRA bestows these awards to honor outstanding undergraduate students in a variety of majors through a competitive process. These awards are granted to students who tackle challenging problems in aerospace engineering, space science research and exploration, demonstrate leadership, promote diversity in science and engineering, and are poised to make significant contributions to their fields. An Honorable Mention went to Purdue EAPS student Emma Rogers.

How SpaceX’s massive Starship rocket might unlock the solar system—and beyond
12-07-2021
If all goes to plan, next month SpaceX will launch the largest rocket in human history. Towering nearly 400 feet tall, the rocket – Starship – is designed to take NASA astronauts to the moon. And SpaceX’s CEO, Elon Musk, has bigger ambitions: he wants to use it to settle humans on Mars. Much has already been made of Starship’s human spaceflight capabilities. But the rocket could also revolutionize what we know about our neighboring planets and moons. “Starship would totally change the way that we can do solar system exploration,” says Ali Bramson, a planetary scientist from Purdue University. “Planetary science will just explode.”

Asteroid material deposited during large impacts record the moon’s ancient magnetic field
12-01-2021
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
12-01-2021
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.

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