Planetary Science

The Planetary Group has research interests in planetary bodies throughout the solar system and beyond, primarily those with atmospheres. We develop scientific instrumentation for planetary exploration missions, analyse observational data from space- and ground-based observations, perform testing in laboratory simulations of planetary and space environments, and carry out related modelling work to investigate the implication of the observations.

Hardware development

Hardware development has focussed on infrared radiometry and spectrometry for remote sounding. Such instruments for which Oxford has supplied hardware include Galileo Jupiter mission’s Near Infared Mapping Spectrometer; the Cassini Saturn mission’s Infrared Spectrometer at Saturn, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Mars Climate Sounder radiometer; the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s Diviner radiometer. In situ instrumentation in development includes instrumentation for meteorology, seismology and subsurface characterization. We have facilities for assembly, integration and testing including mechanical and electronic workshops, cleanrooms, metrology, thermal vacuum and vibration test equipment – further details are available here.

Radiative transfer analysis

Oxford has long experience in radiative transfer analysis of remote sounding of planetary atmospheres, and has played a key analysis role for all of the above infrared instruments and more. Oxford has played a key role in developing the retrieval algorithms which allow optimal estimation of temperature, gas and aerosol profiles in atmospheres. These techniques, first developed for analysis of Earth’s atmosphere, are now applied to observations of every planetary atmosphere in our solar system and to exoplanet atmospheres.

Environmental simulation

We use environmental chambers to simulate space and planetary environments. We perform infared spectroscopy of gases and surface material analogues in conditions relevant to planetary sounding. A Mars Wind tunnel has been developed for development and calibration of Martian meteorology sensors. Further environmental chambers to reproduce the thermal conditions experienced by space instruments and planetary surfaces.

Atmospheric Circulation models

General Circulation Models (GCMs), based on those used to simulate Earth’s weather and climate, have been modified to simulate a variety of planetary and exoplanetary atmospheres. Planetary atmospheres simulated at Oxford include Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Titan and a range of exoplanets. These models, constrained by observational data, provide a detailed glimpse at atmospheric behaviour on other planets. Further details available here.