Planetary and space sciences brings together geoscientists, geochemists, astrobiologists and space scientists who currently study the planets of our Solar System in a drive to address the following high level research questions:
• The origin of the Solar System
• The origin and evolution of planetary bodies in the Solar System
• The habitability of planetary bodies
Research activities align with the research strategies of major funders – ESA (link), STFC and NERC – and in addition attracts significant interest from charities such as the Welcome Trust. Beyond this Discipline members have been heavily involved in many of the ESA Cosmic Vision proposals and continue to seek participation with other space agencies. Research within the Discipline is all inter-connected with many activities spanning a number of different approaches such as sample analysis, spacecraft in situ and remote observation, as well as simulation and lab experiment. Discipline members also have a long history of involvement in major Solar System exploration space missions, and continues this involvement with a major role in the ESA ExoMars mission.
The principle areas of current research activity are:
• Mars: Exploration of the martian surface environment, through satellite imaging, instrumentation for ExoMars and analysis of martian meteorites.
• Titan: Following up our successful involvement in Huygens lander with simulation of the Titan environment.
• Asteroids: Exploring their origin, characteristics and fate through observation and space missions
• Comets: Investigating the nature of comets and Solar System formation through analysis of NASA Stardust samples and instrumentation on board the ESA Rosetta mission.
• Meteorites: Offering the opportunity to investigate the formation of the elements, conditions between the stars, and the formation of our Solar System and its planetary bodies.
• Sun: Attempting to measure the isotopic composition of key elements in the sun with samples returned by the NASA Genesis Mission.
• Astrobiology: Exploring the extreme conditions where life can exist and its fate in the environment of space.
• Planetary Surfaces: Understanding the near-surface heat and volatile exchange processes on planetary bodies.
Complementing the laboratory based analytical and simulation studies, discipline members have a strong stake in complementary science undertaken with space missions. Members have been involved with instrumentation for all the major ESA planetary missions to date, as well participating in many missions from other agencies. Much of our work today focuses on the on-going and imminent missions such as Rosetta, Cassini, ESMO and ExoMars.
As well as in situ instrumentation, recent sample return missions such as the NASA Stardust and Genesis missions have provided an invaluable link between the meteorite samples and distant objects that do not arrive on the surface of the Earth, at least in a readily identifiable form.
Space missions are planned and executed on a very long time scale - often measured in decades, and therefore discipline members maintain a high profile in many future mission proposals related to planetary sciences - both within ESA, through programmes such as Aurora and Cosmic Vision and with other agencies, including the growing band of new space-faring nations.
Discipline Head - Professor Ian Wright
Telephone: +44 (0) 1908 652724
Personal website of Discipline Head -