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At LPL, we use planetary geophysics to study the interior structure and dynamics of solid planetary bodies. Geophysical data provides a means to see beneath the surfaces of the planets. Radar data is used to peer through the clouds of Venus and Titan, to measure the surface topography of Venus and Titan, and to probe the interiors of glaciers and lava flows on Mars. Laser altimeters have measured the surface topography of Mars and the Moon with incredible precision. Gravity data illuminates the structure of the crust and mantle of the Moon, Mars, Venus, and Mercury. Magnetic data reveals the presence of ancient dynamos in the cores of the Moon and Mars and an active dynamo on Mercury. The global shapes and gravity fields of the planets and how they deform in response to rotation and tides reveal the deep interior structure all the way down to the core.
Geophysical models provide a means to study the processes operating at and below the surfaces of the planets, both today and in the past. Models of the flow of water through surface and ground water, and as ice through glaciers inform our understanding of the past hydrology and climate of Mars, while models of methane flow on Titan help us understand its active hydrocarbon hydrology. Models of volcanic and tectonic processes and the response of the lithosphere reveal details of the crustal evolution of the terrestrial planets and other solid-surface bodies. Models of impacts show the dynamics of cosmic collisions ranging from small crater-forming impacts to the Moon-forming impact. Models of the rotational and tidal deformation of planets and satellites help constrain their internal structure and thermal evolution. Together, geophysical data and models provide the keys to unlocking the past evolution and present-day structure of the planets.
ProfessorAssistant Department Head
Professor, EDO Director
PTYS Graduate Student