Planetary Science

MIl 090030 XPL-06The study of other planets occurs on many levels, from experimental simulations to the active exploration of a planet’s surface. The research within the Planetary Sciences group covers many of these approaches, with a focus on the planet Mars. Processes such as impact cratering, volcanism, surface weathering, and the evolution of the climate are investigated against the backdrop of the Mojave desert, an ideal natural laboratory for studying planetary analogs.


Subdisciplines

Astrobiology
Mars Geochemistry
Planetary Volcanology
Crater Formation
Remote Sensing & GIS


Participating Faculty

Brenda J. Buck: Professor
Soil Science & Geomorphology of Desert Landscapes (Modern & Ancient)

Elisabeth (Libby) M. Hausrath: Associate Professor
Soil-forming Processes, Water-rock Interaction, Chemical Weathering, Mars Geochemistry

Shichun Huang: Assistant Professor
Geochemistry, Igneous Geology

Eugene I. Smith: Emeritus Professor
Igneous Petrology, Volcanic Stratigraphy, Geochemistry

Oliver Tschauner: Associate Research Professor
Mineralogy and Crystallography

Arya Udry, Assistant Professor
Planetary Science, Igneous Petrology, Martian Geology, Meteorites


Astrobiology

Our faculty study the boundaries of life in the most extreme environments on Earth, including the Atacama Desert, Chile. We use these environments as analogues for possible life on other planets and how to find it. Currently, faculty and students are exploring the relationship between minerals and life; and the chemical interactions between UV radiation and common surface minerals and their possible effect on life.

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Mars Geochemistry

f) Climate and earth surfaceData about the Martian surface are available at different scales, from robotic missions and orbiters. These data contain a great deal of interesting information about the geology and history of that planet. In particular, UNLV Geoscience faculty are using these data to interpret the aqueous history of the planet, with relevance for the possibility of life.

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Planetary Volcanology

The study of volcanoes throughout the solar system starts with an understanding of the basic processes and volcanic edifices here on Earth. Faculty and students are conducting field experiments at local sites throughout Nevada, Utah, and California to determine the origins, melt processes, and eruptive history of planetary analogs. Work from these studies is enhancing our understanding of volcanic processes on Mars, Venus, and the Moon, and providing new insights into planetary evolution.

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Crater Formation

Craters are the universal planetary landform. Since the beginning of the solar system, the planets have been bombarded by space debris, in the form of meteorites and comets. Studies to understand these processes include laboratory analyses of high-velocity impacts, mapping Earth’s impact craters, and collecting samples of meteorites. Since the hazard of extraterrestrial impacts poses the greatest threat to the long-term future of the human race and life on the planet, this oldest of planetary geology topics remains relevant today.

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Remote Sensing & GIS

Remote sensing can be used to determine the composition, physical characteristics, and atmospheric dynamics on planets throughout the solar system without having to send humans into the hazards of space. With a focus on Mars, Venus, and the Moon, researchers in geoscience are using NASA instruments to study the surface materials on the terrestrial planets to determine the processes, climate, and history of the surface layer. GIS plays an integral part in managing large remote sensing datasets by allowing users to manipulate spectral data, imagery, and geophysical data in a seamless platform to answer questions about the planets.

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