One of the most rewarding parts of a career in planetary science is involvement with NASA missions. Below are brief descriptions of the mission teams we have worked on and how we've used the resulting mission data.
GRAIL (Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory) was a mission launched in 2011(right) that measured the gravity field of the Moon to extreme accuracy. The mission consisted of two spacecraft, Ebb and Flow, orbiting the Moon in sequence. The measurement made is the distance between the two spacecraft, which can be translated into gravitational acceleration.
We have used GRAIL data to quantify the volcanic history of the Moon, study the creation of porosity in the lunar crust, analyze how topography is supported on the Moon, and more.
Artist depiction of the two GRAIL spacecraft in lunar orbit.
Occator Crater on Ceres, a cryovolcanic site where brines erupted onto the surface. Perspective view from Dawn Framing Camera images.
Dawn is a spacecraft that orbited two large bodies in the asteroids belt: Vesta in 2011 and 2012 and Ceres in 2015 through the present. It had three scientific instruments: a camera, a visible/infrared spectrometer, and a gamma ray/neutron detector, and additionally collected gravity data using radio science.
We have used Dawn data to reconstruct the cryovolcanic history of Ceres (left), learn about impact processes on icy bodies, study the products of liquid water and brines on icy surfaces, quantify Ceres' crustal structure and composition, and more.
HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) is one of six scientific instruments aboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. It is a camera that takes images of the Martian surface with a resolution of ~30 cm/pixel. HiRISE stereo pair images can be converted into digital elevation models with vertical resolution of ~1m.
We have used HiRISE data to analyze climate records on Mars, quantify the role of ice flow over parts of the Martian surface (e.g., right), developed techniques to study icy stratigraphy in the Martian polar regions, and more.
3D reconstructions of cliffs at the edge of the north polar layered deposits made from HiRISE stereo images (top). These cliffs host avalanches of frost/dust (bottom, HiRISE image ESP_016228_2650)
Rectangular cylindrical projection of LOLA topography centered on the Moon's farside.
LOLA (Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter) is one of six scientific instruments aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched in 2009 and is still orbiting the Moon today. It has resulted in a detailed topographic map of the Moon (left) using laser altimetry.
We have used LOLA data to study craters on the Moon, analyze how topography is supported on the Moon, study the creation of porosity in the lunar crust, and more.
We not only analyze data from current and past spacecraft missions – we also research how to drive humanity's exploration of the Solar System forward with future spacecraft missions.
In particular, we are focusing on how to execute geophysics-themed NASA missions that focus on geodetic exploration of the solid worlds in the Solar System and on studying a concept that for future investigation of habitability on Ceres.
Context of possible site on Ceres for mission concept to study Cerean habitability – see Castillo-Rogez et al. (2022) for more details.
The above missions represent mission teams we have been fortunate to participate in. We also analyze data from other missions in our research – for example from the NASA spacecraft MESSENGER, Voyager 2, and New Horizons.