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Planetary Science U NI V ER S I T Y O F C O LO R A D O B O U LD E R (Courtesy NASA/JPL) LASP scientists study geological and atmospheric processes on Mars in order to determine its climate history and potential for life. Planetary science focuses on many aspects of including geologic sciences, biology, atmospheric planetary objects, from their deep interiors to sciences, philosophy, and chemistry. the distant influences of a planet’s gravitational A number of LASP scientists are actively involved in or magnetic field far from the planet’s surface. astrobiology research. These projects encompass a LASP planetary scientists study data from variety of different approaches, including: ground, telescope, and space-based instruments to • Participation in spacecraft mission teams understand the origins of our solar system and the planets, planetary dust, and electric fields within it. • Field studies on Earth • Laboratory simulations Scientists at LASP also develop theoretical models of • Computer modeling different components of planetary systems, including: • Geological processes on Mars Our projects include: • Evolution of Saturn’s ring system • Studies of the evolution of the atmosphere, surface geology, and hydrology of Mars in relation to its • Interaction of magnetospheric plasma with the habitability volcanic atmospheres of Io and Enceladus • The investigation of terrestrial analogs of • Escape of atmospheres from Mars, Mercury, and Pluto environments such as volcanic fumaroles and • Bizarre chemistry of Titan’s atmosphere deep-sea hydrothermal vents that might be capable • Charging of dust grains on the surface of the moon of supporting life on other planetary bodies Astrobiology • Laboratory simulations of geologic environments Astrobiology is a scientific discipline that studies the that can supply chemical forms of energy to support phenomenon of life and its relation to the physical microbial communities, or “chemosynthesis” universe. Astrobiologists study how life came to Graduate and undergraduate students participate exist on Earth, and whether life exists, or was in these and other astrobiology-related research present in the past, elsewhere in our solar system. projects. LASP also hosts the Center for Astrobiology is multidisciplinary and LASP Astrobiology at the University of Colorado scientists collaborate on research projects with Boulder (CU), which coordinates astrobiology colleagues in several university departments, research and education across the university. Planetary Geology Planetary geology and geophysics has long been a research focus at CU—within LASP and its associ- ated departments: • Geological sciences • Astrophysics and planetary sciences • Atmospheric and oceanic sciences • Aerospace engineering • Physics LASP scientists study life in extreme (Courtesy LASP) environments and analog sites to • Molecular, cellular, and developmental better understand the potential for life biology elsewhere in our solar system. Our faculty studies varied fields such as the history of water on Mars, the composi- Scientists are interested in dusty plasmas for a variety tion of Saturn’s moons, and the evolution of reasons: of the interiors of terrestrial planets. • Dust particles immersed in plasmas and bathed In addition: in UV radiation collect electrostatic charges and • Professor Bruce Jakosky has been selected to lead respond to electromagnetic forces, in addition the NASA 2013 MAVEN mission to Mars, which to gravity. will reveal the climate history of the planet • Dust particles in plasmas are unusual charge • Professor Brian Hynek works inside of active carriers: they are heavier and can have larger volcanoes in Central America to better understand the negative or positive time-dependent charges, early history of Mars and its astrobiological potential introducing new temporal and physical • Professor Brian Toon studies the climatic history of characteristic scales. Mars and other planets • Dust particles can communicate non-electromag- • Dr. Mihály Horányi is characterizing lunar dust for netic effects, such as gravity, drag, and radiation upcoming human exploration pressure to the plasma—acting as free energy sources. Dust can influence the collective plasma Many others at CU contribute to detailing the behavior, altering the traditional plasma wave modes evolution of the terrestrial planets and in some cases and triggering new types of waves and instabilities. assess if life is, or ever was, possible beyond Earth. LASP, the Departments of Physics, and the Depart- Dusty Plasmas ment of Aerospace Engineering have a rapidly Dusty plasmas are ionized gases that contain growing program in dusty plasma theory, laboratory microscopic charge carriers—often simply investigations, rocket experiments, and spacecraft referred to as dust—representing a large variety instrumentation. We recently established the of possibilities, including ice particles, water Colorado Center for Lunar Dust and Atmospheric drops, or simply dust. Interplanetary space, Studies (CCLDAS), which is a member of the comets, planetary rings, asteroids, the moon, and NASA Lunar Science Institute, to study basic aerosols in the atmosphere are all examples where physical and applied questions regarding lunar electrons, ions, and dust particles coexist. This dust and dusty plasma, including issues important emerging field bridges plasma physics studies to ensure human safety and long-term usability of with celestial and granular materials mechanics. mechanical and optical devices on the moon. Researchers at LASP study the dusty plasma en- vironment through a combination of modeling, To read more about Planetary Sciences at LASP, visit: theoretical work and laboratory experiments. http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/science/planetary. The Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) combines all aspects of space exploration through our expertise in science, engineering, mission operations, and data management. As an institute at the University of Colorado Boulder, LASP includes students throughout our activities. Learn more at http://lasp.colorado.edu.
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