Planetary scientists work to improve our understanding of the planets, satellites and smaller bodies in the solar system. By studying the atmospheres, surfaces and interiors of planets, researchers can get clues to the origins and mechanics of our own home planet. Examples of these studies focus on understanding the origins of planets, using radar to determine the physical characteristics of asteroids, and searching for asteroids that may pose a hazard to Earth. Research is carried out in the laboratory, from astronomical facilities throughout the world, and from spacecraft and landers.
Studies involving small planetary bodies and near earth objects involve astronomy, and geology, modeling activities. Researchers in the field conduct those activities to learn about how planets form and also to identify objects in close proximity to earth. JPL has sponsored many programs to identify small planetary bodies and to support NASA missions.
Planetary habitability is at the center of astrobiology research at JPL. Researchers conduct field and lab studies in microbiology and chemistry to help them plan for future planetary exploration missions. Recently, JPL was awarded two grants from NASA's Astrobiology Institute.
Research in planetary atmospheres comprises a quantitative study of the atmospheres of major and minor bodies in the solar system and beyond. Investigations of gases, aerosols, hazes, and clouds apply broadly to global climate on the planets, meteorology and weather prediction, planetary evolution, and astrobiology.
Planetary geology and geophysics activities focus on exploring Earth and the other planets in our solar system. Researchers are involved in volcanology, tectonics, mantle dynamics, and mineralogy. Most recently, several JPL researchers have been involved in studies that are analyzing surface data from the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) and the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), known as the Curiosity rover.
JPL radio science researchers participate in many NASA deep space missions. They contribute to developing engineering requirements consistent with the scientific objectives for each spacecraft and ground elements of radio science instruments; participate in instrument design and development; acquire science data; and participate in analysis and interpretation.
Researchers in this field seek to better understand the properties of the surfaces, interiors and atmospheres of the many icy bodies in the solar system, and related small bodies such as asteroids and Near Earth Objects (NEOs). These efforts involve space and ground-based observations, theoretical modeling, data analysis, and laboratory experiments.