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Planetary Science




We study habitability and potential biosignatures across a wide variety of bodies in the Universe, ranging from early Earth to exoplanets.  Our work includes learning about the evolution of Earth’s atmosphere and oceans, biosignature preservation in the geologic record, astronomical life detection techniques, the history of habitable environments across the Solar System, and the relationship between planetary habitability and stellar properties.  Faculty: Horgan, Olson

Planetary Atmospheres and Climate

Planetary Atmospheres and Climate


We use laboratory experiments and computer simulations to study cloud formation and atmospheric evolution on a range of planets.  We also analyze geological records in order to understand what they teach us about climate history on Earth, Mars, and beyond.  Faculty:  A. Johnson, Olson, Tremblay

Planetary Geophysics

Planetary Geophysics


We study the interiors, geodynamics, tectonics, thermal evolution, and impact processes across the solid bodies of the Solar System using data returned from spacecraft missions and sophisticated numerical models.  Faculty: Bramson, Freed, B. Johnson, Sori

Planetary Surfaces

Planetary Surfaces


We study the mineralogical, morphological, and tectonic evolution of planetary surfaces using remote sensing analysis, field and laboratory analog studies, and computational methods to understand the processes and environments that shape the landscapes of planets.  Faculty: Bramson, Horgan, B. Johnson, Minton, Sori, Thompson, Tremblay

Sample Analysis

Sample Analysis


We use state-of-the-art laboratory experiments to analyze extraterrestrial samples, including meteorites, Moon rocks returned by Apollo astronauts, and materials collected from asteroids.  Our techniques allow us to study the physical and chemical evolution of the surface of the Earth and other planets and moons.  Faculty: Thompson, Tremblay

Solar System Dynamics

Solar System Dynamics


We use observations of populations of Solar System objects and their orbits, combined with computer simulations, to study the formation and evolution of planetary and satellite systems to understand how our Solar System and others developed through time.  Faculty: Minton

Spacecraft missions

Spacecraft Missions


We have been and are continuing to be involved with NASA and international spacecraft missions, including MESSENGER, Hayabusa2, OSIRIS-REx, GRAIL, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Curiosity and Perseverance Mars rovers, Mars Odyssey, Dawn, and more.  We are also active in planning the next generation of robotic spacecraft missions, human exploration, and astronomical observatories.  Faculty: all

Planetary Science News

NASA's Perseverance Makes New Discoveries in Mars' Jezero Crater
Scientists got a surprise when NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover began examining rocks on the floor of Jezero Crater in spring of 2021: Because the crater held a lake billions of years ago, they had expected to find sedimentary rock, which would have formed when sand and mud settled in a once-watery environment. Instead, they discovered the floor was made of two types of igneous rock – one that formed deep underground from magma, the other from volcanic activity at the surface. Purdue EAPS Prof. Roger Wiens is cited in this article.

Breaking in a new planet
PURDUE NEWS — The harder you hit something – a ball, a walnut, a geode – the more likely it is to break open. Or, if not break open, at least lose a little bit of its structural integrity, the way baseball players pummel new gloves to make them softer and more flexible. Cracks, massive or tiny, form and bear a silent, permanent witness to the impact. Studying how those impacts affect planetary bodies, asteroids, moons and other rocks in space helps planetary scientists including Brandon Johnson, associate professor, and Sean Wiggins, postdoctoral researcher, of Purdue EAPS, understand extraplanetary geology, especially where to look for precious matter including water, ice and even, potentially, microbial life.

Blushing moon could reveal secrets of planetary bodies and their red-colored regions
The Kuiper Belt is a massive region of icy planetary bodies that exists on the outermost parts of our solar system that has largely been unexplored. The most notable body in this belt is Pluto. Many of the objects in the Kuiper Belt have red regions on their surfaces. Pluto’s largest moon, Charon, is one such object that boasts of this blush. The NASA mission New Horizons spacecraft returned high resolution images of Charon and allowed planetary scientists to further study this red phenomenon. Researchers at the Purdue University Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) studied this data and performed geological analysis and modeling that determines that cryovolcanism is quite possibly cause of these massive red polar spots. They published their findings in Nature Communications on August 9, 2022.

Parts of the moon may provide stable temperatures for humans, researchers find
CNN — In early human history, caves provided people with protection from the elements and a place to call home. Now, similar formations on the moon could provide pioneering astronauts with a lunar safe haven, thanks to their Earth-like temperatures. The moon has pits with shaded areas that steadily hover around 63 degrees Fahrenheit (17 degrees Celsius), a temperate range that's stable for humans. Dr. Briony Horgan, of Purdue EAPS, is cited in this article by CNN.

Lasers, landscape and lost magnetic fields
PURDUE NEWS — The first letter ever etched on the Martian surface is the letter L. Far from being an act of interplanetary graffiti, though, it’s there for scientific purposes. And it won’t be there forever – scientists plan to bring the marked rock home someday to be studied in a laboratory. Roger Wiens, EAPS professor and an expert in Mars robotics technology, led the team that built SuperCam, one of Mars rover Perseverance’s most innovative and effective tools. Recently, SuperCam used its laser to etch the first letter – L – on the Martian surface to learn more about Mars’ lost magnetic field.

Laser Marking on Mars
NASA — If your name begins with “L” you will like this post about the first letter to be laser engraved on Mars. Every once in a while, we see cartoons in which a Mars rover is driven in a pattern to make letters in the sand with its wheel tracks. The letters spell out a silly phrase, and the cartoon usually has aliens on the side, laughing or puzzling over the meaning. The use of lasers on board Mars rovers has also made it possible to laser-mark graffiti on Martian rocks. Dr. Roger Wiens, Principal Investigator, SuperCam / Co-Investigator, SHERLOC instrument at Purdue University, pens this article for NASA.

Purdue professors involved in Mars rover missions
PURDUE EXPONENT — Two Purdue professors are involved in an effort that could answer one of humanity’s biggest questions – whether there is life beyond Earth – using the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover.

Leading ‘instrumental’ research on Mars: Purdue EAPS welcomes new faculty member Roger Wiens
The Purdue University Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences (EAPS) welcomes Professor Roger Wiens to a growing list of faculty who passionately pursue planetary science. Wiens brings with him an extensive list of accomplishments which he acquired while working for NASA at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

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