Planetary Science Department

Planetary Science Department

How did our solar system form? What brought about the diversity of very different celestial bodies and its abundance of various natural phenomena that we encounter today? These are only two of the key questions from the wide range of Planetary Research that we investigate in the Planetary Science Department.

The main focus of the department includes all planets, as well as the smaller celestial bodies, such as comets and asteroids. By means of comparative planetology, we investigate the commonalities and differences of the various planetary bodies. We study their structure and composition, as well as the variety of dynamic processes. This ranges from the deep interior of these celestial bodies through their surface layers and atmosphere to the plasma environments of the planets, which are composed of the extremely thin and electrically charged gas that surrounds the planets.

Until a few decades ago we only knew our own solar system. Meanwhile, more than 1000 extrasolar planets around other suns are known. To what extent is our solar system typical compared to the diversity of these extrasolar systems? The investigation of the planets and planetary bodies on our doorstep provides information about processes with such accuracy that we might never achieve within other solar systems. In reverse, the diversity of extrasolar systems contributes to a fundamental understanding of the physical processes that lead to the formation of solar systems and affect their development. By solely studying our solar system, it would be quite difficult, if not even impossible to achieve this understanding.

Our most important investigative tools are scientific instruments aboard spacecraft whose data we analyze and interpret. Most of these instruments are partially or completely developed, and manufactured at our Institute. 

With our instruments we either observe the objects from a distance by orbiter spacecraft, which circle these celestial bodies, or at close proximity by landers, which have direct contact with the surface of these celestial bodies. In addition, cameras are being used to map the surface and atmosphere of the celestial bodies. Infrared and microwave spectrometers characterize their composition, while other instruments measure the flow of high-energy electrically charged or neutral particles (atoms, electrons, protons, dust), and with the help of mass spectrometers and gas chromatographs we investigate the composition of dust and organic components.


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