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Planetary Science

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

Perseverance rover prepares to collect Martian samples that will be sent to Earth
Almost a year after NASA's Perseverance rover was launched on its nearly seven-month journey to Mars, the robotic explorer is preparing to collect its first Martian sample within the next two weeks. Briony Horgan, part of the rover's science team and associate professor of planetary science in Purdue University's Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences in the College of Science, is mentioned in this piece by CNN.

Stored for 50 Years, Technology is Finally Advanced Enough to Analyze Apollo Moon Samples
If hindsight is 20/20, what is foresight? Foresight like that of NASA leaders in the 1970s who locked 840 pounds of moon rocks and dust in a vault until technology advanced enough to study them accurately deserves at least 20/10. “When these samples were collected, when men walked on the moon, I hadn’t even been born yet,” said Thompson, an assistant professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “This sample has been on Earth longer than I have. It has been sitting in storage, waiting for scientists to analyze it since it was returned. Scientists now have tools and technologies that the original generation of astronauts could only dream of. Now it’s our turn to follow in their footsteps and study the moon rocks they brought back.”

Volcano research leads to better understanding of their deep structure
The deep structure of volcanoes has proven difficult for geoscientists to understand due to the inherent difficulty of seeing below the Earth’s surface. To get a more holistic understanding of volcanoes and their subsurface structure, a team of researchers from multiple disciplines, including Jonathan Delph of Purdue University’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, combined their expertise to better understand how their datasets can be interpreted in light of the others.

Planets With Seasons Like Ours Could Host Complex Alien Life, Suggests NASA Research
The theory goes that there’s a not-too-warm, not-too-cold, but just right “Goldilocks zone” within which liquid water can exist on the surface of a planet. “Worlds that are modestly tilted on their axes may be more likely to evolve complex life,” said Stephanie Olson from Purdue University and lead researcher of the study. “This helps us narrow the search for complex, perhaps even intelligent life in the Universe.”

Goldilocks planets 'with a tilt' may develop more complex life
Planets which are tilted on their axis, like Earth, are more capable of evolving complex life. This finding will help scientists refine the search for more advanced life on exoplanets. This NASA-funded research is presented at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference. The lead researcher, Stephanie Olson, of Purdue EAPS, presents at these findings at the Goldschmidt Conference at 11:30 a.m. EST on July 9, 2021.

Purdue scientists studying moon samples from Apollo 17 Mission
Researchers at Purdue are working on a groundbreaking project that's literally out of this world. "Curiosity is really what drives scientists and it's important to understand our place in the solar system," said Purdue Assistant Professor of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences Michelle Thompson. That's exactly what Thompson is doing. She's in the middle of a three-year project analyzing moon dust from the Apollo 17 Mission. Video included.

Still taking giant leaps from lunar small steps: Purdue scientists analyze moon dust collected by Apollo 17 astronauts
Humans have not set foot on the moon for nearly 50 years, but the Apollo moon missions aren’t over. The echoes from Neil Armstrong’s first steps are still helping scientists make giant leaps in understanding the moon’s geology. Now, Purdue University scientists including Michelle Thompson, an assistant professor of EAPS in Purdue’s College of Science, and Marc Caffee, professor of Physics and Astronomy in the Department of Astronomy and Physics, are both working on teams that will analyze some of the moon rocks and lunar soil samples from that mission.

Scientists simulate alien volcanoes here on Earth
A small volume of liquid iron snakes across the top of the molten rock as narrow rivers flowing ten times faster than that underlying lava. Despite initially being a whopping 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, these rivers rapidly cool and solidify before the snail-like shimmying of the ropey lava below snaps them into pieces. Most of the liquid iron, though, sinks into the lava. It bunches up toward the front of the lava flow before exploding out of it as braided, winding streams — silvery strokes of an altogether alien calligrapher. Dr. Brandon Johnson of Purdue EAPS is cited in this article by Supercluster.

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