Planetary Systems Branch (Code SST)

Solar nebula models have revolutionized conceptions of solar system formation
Solar nebula models have revolutionized conceptions of solar system formation

The Planetary Systems Branch is primarily in N245, with some laboratory facilities in N239.

Chief: Dr. Jeff Hollingsworth

Assistant Chief: Sandra Owen

Front Office: 650-604-5524

Observational, theoretical, and experimental research on the origin and evolution of planetary systems

Hubble observations that discovered rings of Uranus

How common are planetary systems around nearby stars? Which conditions are necessary for planet formation? Are there other Earth-like planets capable of harboring life? What forms of life can be sustained in different physical and chemical environments?

We have world-class expertise in planetary geology and geophysics, planetary atmospheres and climate, and planetary disks and rings.

Solar nebula models have revolutionized conceptions of solar system formation.

Our scientists are at the very forefront of many observational and theoretical studies.

Extensive Mars research efforts include global circulation modeling of the atmosphere, and detailed studies of the geology, chemistry and mineralogy of surface materials.

Ames scientists also provide science and engineering leadership in sub-surface exploration, with a demonstrated capability in developing and testing drills.

Branch scientists conduct a large array of Mars analog field campaigns in arid sites such as Antarctica, the Atacama desert in Chile, California’s Mojave desert, and the Rio Tinto region of Spain, making critical tests of technologies and practices that will be integrated into future missions.

Branch scientists are conducting science and engineering concept studies for future missions including Mars Scout concepts like the Mars Polar Drill and Mars Meteorology Orbiter.

Code SST Highlights

Sampling for Biomarkers in the Atacama Desert
MB Atacama 1

NASA Ames Pathway PhD Candidate, Mary Beth Wilhelm, conducted Mars analog field work in the Atacama Desert in Chile with Senior Research Scientist Dr. Alfonso Davila of the SETI Institute and Civil Servant Dr. Jennifer Eigenbrode of NASA Goddard. The team collected samples from the extreme hyper-arid core of the Atacama, which receives less than […]

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Ames FINESSE Team Presents Science Data at NASA’s Exploration Science Forum

The FINESSE (Field Investigations to Enable Solar System Science and Exploration) team participated in the NASA Exploration Science Forum last week at Ames. Multiple team members presented both oral and poster presentations regarding the planned and ongoing FINESSE research to study solar system volcanism and impacts from both scientific and exploration perspectives. FINESSE personnel from […]

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FINESSE team completes first field deployment to Craters of the Moon, Idaho

NASA’s FINESSE (Field Investigations to Enable Solar System Science & Exploration) completed the project’s first field deployment in July 2014. FINESSE team members conducted field work at Craters of the Moon (COTM) National Monument and Preserve in July 2014. COTM is a being used as a terrestrial analog to study volcanic constructs with similarities to […]

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Pavilion Lake Research Project completes field deployment to Pavilion Lake, BC
Pavilion Lake Outland Second Pass

NASA MMAMA (SMD) funded Pavilion Lake Research Project (PLRP) team completed the project’s first Phase 3 field deployment, which ran from June 12-27, 2014. The field program involved a tightly integrated science and exploration program. Field research involved joint human and robotic underwater activities, which served to: 1) broaden our understanding of the driving factors […]

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Christopher McKay Develops “Extreme Checklist” For Habitable Planets

New Scientist (6/9, Grossman, 329K) reports that Christopher McKay of the Ames Research Center has developed an “expanded checklist” of the types of planets that could host life. The new checklist was based on “the extremes that life can endure” here on Earth. McKay cautioned that Titan, with its surface liquid and weather cycle based […]

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Discovery of Coldest Ever Brown Dwarf Relied on Ames Atmosphere Models

The coldest brown dwarf ever discovered was announced this week by Penn State astronomer Kevin Luhman and was the subject of a NASA press release (see link below). Estimate of temperature came from comparison to models by SST scientist Mark Marley’s research group as presented in a recent paper by UCSC graduate student and Marley […]

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Don’t Eat the Dirt on Mars: the Pros and Cons of Perchlorate
Rock on the Martian Surface

Planetary Systems Branch Pathways Intern’s Article about Mars Featured on KQED, San Francisco PBS affiliate To be successful Mars colonists, future astronauts will need to know both the potential hazard and utility of the soil. Astronauts can use Martian soil to “live off the land” as building material, fuel, or a fertilizer, greatly reducing the […]

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LRO Images LADEE At The Moon

LRO Images LADEE At The Moon. Spaceflight Now (1/30, Clark, 3K) reports that on Wednesday, NASA released an image of the LADEE spacecraft taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). The article describes how LRO operators were able to capture the image on January 14. Blog Coverage. Ken Kremer at Universe Today (1/30, 25K) writes […]

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