Planetary science is going to become more and more prominent because global climate change is going to start to become a real concern. It’s going to start to really hit home that it’s happening, and people will no longer be able to deny it. Understanding planetary systems and feedbacks between emissions of gases into the atmosphere and weather patterns, and erosion, and volcanism, and glaciations and all this is going to be very intensely studied. We’ll be able to look at Mars and look at Venus and start to understand planetary systems as a whole. In order to understand what’s happening to our home planet, we’re going to have to understand how other planetary systems work as well, so I think that’s going to drive a lot of interest in planetary science.
Planetary science in general is very interesting because it allows us to extend our knowledge of the atmosphere to other places. Many people are just focusing on the climate issue. It’s very important. But sometimes you get a much more general perspective if you start to look at atmospheres which are drastically different, and actually you can learn something about the current Earth’s atmosphere by comparing. Even though we study the atmosphere of Mars just because it’s interesting by itself, we actually can learn quite a few things about Earth, about how the Earth’s atmospheric composition changes over time.
When you’re looking at roughly a hundred years’ history of the Earth, you can’t really understand whether what we observe right now is a fluke, or something natural, or something caused. Global warming, for example—was it caused or was it something just naturally existing? To understand that, we really need to look how climate and composition of the atmosphere changed over time for billions of years—because climate system does change over time, slowly or very fast; it just depends on what’s going on in the Earth. By studying the past, we’re trying to understand what’s going on now.
I think one of the things we may be getting into, to some extent, is worrying a little bit more about what’s going on with Earth’s climate. What can some of the things that happen with atmospheres on other planets tell us about things we might not understand about the atmosphere on Earth? I think that’s one place where it might make sense for us to move off in.