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Planetary Research at MSSL

Our planetary research has two strands: (1) the solar wind and its interaction with different solar system bodies and (2) planetary surface studies.

First, we are interested in what the magnetospheres of Saturn, Jupiter and Mercury, and the solar wind interactions with Mars, Venus and comets, can tell us about our own magnetosphere. This can then be compared with the Earth's magnetosphere which we study in the magnetospheric physics programme. We are also studying the solar wind and its radial variations with distance away from the Sun.

Our tools for this research include data from Cassini-Huygens at Saturn. Cassini-Huygens started its 4 year tour in 1 July 2004, and we are exploring one of the most complex magnetospheres in the solar system. Dominated by rotation, the magnetosphere interacts with the rings, icy satellites and with Titan. We are studying all of these aspects, Also, Giotto gave us vital information about the 'ion pickup' process at strong (Halley) and weak (Grigg-Skjellerup) comets, which will be important for understanding the data from Rosetta. This process also plays a key role in the loss of the Mars and Venus atmospheres to space. We are involved in instrument and science teams for Mars Express (ASPERA-3), Venus Express (ASPERA-4) and Rosetta (RPC), which will allow us to compare the solar wind interaction with the unmagnetized bodies Mars, Venus and comets.

Second, we are embarking on a new programme of planetary surface and atmosphere studies. Using imaging on the surface of Mars we will study Martian geology and atmospheric physics. We plan to measure the height profile of water vapour in the Martian atmosphere which is then scavenged by the solar wind.

Our tool for this work was to be the Stereo Camera System for Beagle 2, augmented by Mars Express measurements in orbit. Now, we are preparing to provide the stereo camera part of the PanCam instrument on ExoMars.

26th May 2006
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Mullard Space Science Laboratory - Holmbury St. Mary - Dorking - Surrey - RH5 6NT - Telephone: +44 (0)1483 204100 - Copyright © 1999-2005 UCL

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