Planetary and Space Sciences


The exploration of the universe is a very multidisciplinary area of research, involving many sciences, and because of the fast information exchange, it directly permits scientists to interact among themselves and with the broad public. Planetary space science has rapidly evolved in the past several years thanks to the introduction of powerful computers and computational simulation methods, larger and larger telescopes- earth-bound and space-borne. Space missions currently exploring remotely the Universe and in situ several objects in our solar system ,with the help of a wealth of improved analytical instruments such as spectrometers, cameras, radars, and other space-flight instrumentation has opened the path to phenomenal new discoveries. This human effort has now reached another peak in space exploration with a multitude of missions, targeting to enhance our understanding of the geological, atmospheric and internal processes at play on different planets and their satellites. From a fuller understanding of the climatology within the Sun’s planetary family, and eventually that of the planets in other stellar systems, we may better understand our own, and develop predictive models for the future Earth. With this as our objective, several objects stand out: in the inner Solar System, Mars and Venus, and in the outer solar system Saturn’s large and Earth-like satellite Titan. Also, the study of comets and asteroids is instructive in our quest for understanding the Earth. These objects are considered as possible habitats (favorable for the emergence and sustenance of life with liquid water on the surface or in the interior) and have a high astrobiological potential, which is of high importance to the search for the emergence and evolution of life. Comparison with conditions on other planetary objects in the studies of atmospheric, surface and internal processes can bring us valuable insights on our own planet, the Earth, as revealed recently by the Rosetta mission. As a consequence, several space missions, from Europe, the US, China and Japan have been directed towards the objective of thoroughly studying these worlds: for Venus we have had Venus Express and Magellan; for Mars we have had Mars Express, and several robotic rovers on the surface like XXX. Further out in the Solar System, at 10 AU, a world half the size of the Earth, with a significant nitrogen atmosphere and an intense organic chemistry, probably harboring an undersurface ocean and subject to seasonal effects, Titan, revolves around Saturn and has been studied by the Cassini-Huygens mission since 2004. In the future, ExoMars is aimed to study the atmospheric composition of Mars and land there allowing for deep drilling. With the powerful telescopes (Hubble and its successor JWST) we are now able to search for and characterize Earth-like exoplanets (planets similar to Earth but orbiting other suns of our galaxy); ESA’s CHEOPS and PLATO missions; and USA's KEPLER and TESS missions are examples. The previous list is not all exhaustive. In situ sample analysis and sample return are aimed for Mars and asteroids, connecting laboratory studies (for instance on Earth analogues or extremophiles) with planetary missions. Terrestrial planet climate studies provide insights on the climate changes currently affecting the Earth, which have generated wide concern about a decline in habitability as the population grows with increasingly harmful effects on the environment. Dramatic changes in climate and potential habitability, have also taken place on Mars, and probably on Venus and Titan as well (although the timescales there remain uncertain). Modeling of such foreign climates not only allows us to develop detailed scenarios and possible histories for those extreme variants of the terrestrial situation, it shows up deficiencies in our understanding that could make important differences to climate forecast for the near future of life on Earth. Model inter-comparisons that work quite well for present-day Earth, Venus, Mars and Titan raise the prospect of extrapolating the model descriptions of climate into the past, and into the future. The study of planetary environments can help us to better understand our own planet, and vice versa.

  • Planetary, Atmospheric and geological processes on Venus, Mars and Titan
  • Comparative planetology
  • Planetary climate compared to the Earth
  • Astrobiological aspects in the Universe
  • Habitability in the Solar System
  • Exploration of the terrestrial planets
  • Exploration of the icy moons
  • Exploration of comets and asteroids

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