Planetary Sciences Group

University of Central Florida

The UCF Planetary Sciences Group uses spacecraft data, images from the world’s largest telescopes, meteorites and moon rocks, experimental techniques, and supercomputers to investigate our own Solar System as well as others around the Galaxy.

Our Research

Art of Terrestrial Planets

Atmospheric Evolution and Habitability

Our research group develops atmospheric models of varying complexity (1D, 2D, 3D) to simulate the atmospheres and habitability of the rocky worlds in our solar system (i.e., Venus, Earth, Mars, Titan) and assess their atmospheric/climatic evolution through time.

Dust Dynamics

We are studying the dynamics of dust particles in various solar system environments, including near the lunar surface, asteroid surface, ring systems, and in interplanetary space. This can include motion due to impacts and other disturbances or the motion of charged dust particles in plasma and electric fields.

Exoplanets and Brown Dwarfs

The Exoplanets Group uses space telescopes to reveal the sizes, temperatures, atmospheric properties, and orbits of many planets and brown dwarfs outside our solar system. We develop new theory and models to interpret and understand those data. We also lead several open-source software projects that provide tools for exoplanet research to the astronomical community.

Laboratory Astrophysics

We trace the molecular basis for the evolution of interstellar clouds, the formation of Solar Systems, the incorporation of molecular species into planetary bodies, including comets and meteorites and how these systems evolve in time. Astrochemistry is often a culmination of different fields acting synergistically.

Laboratory Surface Science

We study the physical properties and compositions of the Moon, asteroids, and Mars. The surfaces of these bodies are covered with a fine-grained particulate regolith (or soil) that marks the boundary between internal geologic processes, and the space environment. What are these regoliths made of? How did they form and how have they evolved over time? Most important: what can this tell us about the earliest history of the solar system and the formation of planets?

Microgravity and Planet Formation

Simulations of planet formation that begin with planetesimals have reached a state where the main properties of the solar system are reproduced. Formation of planetesimals themselves remains poorly understood, however. The role of gravitational instabilities in the disk is not known. The outcome of interactions of small aggregates and dust in the presence of the protoplanetary nebula is also poorly understood.

Planetary Rings

We are studying the structure, composition, and evolution of Saturn’s rings through a combination of analysis of data from the Cassini Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS) and numerical modeling of the rings. We combine multiple stellar occultations to understand the three-dimensional structure of the rings in the same way doctors use CT scans to study the structure of the body. These occultations provide exquisitely detailed maps of the finest structures in the rings which we can then compare to N-body simulations to better understand the dynamics of the rings and their origins.

SW1 2008 outburst

Small Bodies

“Small bodies” are big on science! Small bodies are comets, asteroids, trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), Trojans, and Centaurs that are all remnants from the planetary formation era 4 ½ billion years ago. Studying these objects’ behavior and evolution allows us to answer some of the most fundamental questions in astronomy and planetary science.

Academic Programs

Graduate Program

Undergraduate Program

Our Latest Papers

Authors Title Published Date Journal
Pinto, O. Harrington; Kelley, M. S. P.; Villanueva, G. L.; and 9 coauthors First Detection of CO2 Emission in a Centaur: JWST NIRSpec Observations of 39P/Oterma Nov 2023 The Planetary Science Journal 4, 208
Rodríguez Rodríguez, Javier; Díez Alonso, Enrique; Iglesias Álvarez, Santiago; and 7 coauthors Improved models for near-Earth asteroids (2100) Ra-Shalom, (3103) Eger, (12711) Tukmit & (161989) Cacus Nov 2023 Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society ,
Rommel, F. L.; Braga-Ribas, F.; Ortiz, J. L.; and 201 coauthors A large topographic feature on the surface of the trans-Neptunian object (307261) 2002 MS4 measured from stellar occultations Oct 2023 Astronomy and Astrophysics 678, A167
Byron, Benjamin D.; Elder, Catherine M.; Glotch, Timothy D.; and 3 coauthors Evidence for Fine-grained Material at Lunar Red Spots: Insights from Thermal Infrared and Radar Data Sets Sep 2023 The Planetary Science Journal 4, 182
Esparza-Borges, Emma; López-Morales, Mercedes; Adams Redai, Jéa I.; and 30 coauthors Detection of Carbon Monoxide in the Atmosphere of WASP-39b Applying Standard Cross-correlation Techniques to JWST NIRSpec G395H Data Sep 2023 The Astrophysical Journal 955, L19
Nesvorný, David; Dones, Luke; De Prá, Mario; and 2 coauthors Impact Rates in the Outer Solar System Aug 2023 The Planetary Science Journal 4, 139
Czajka, Elizabeth; Retherford, Kurt; Kramer, Georgiana; and 8 coauthors New Insights into Aristarchus Crater with LRO LAMP Far-ultraviolet Observations Aug 2023 The Planetary Science Journal 4, 137
Magaña, L. O.; Retherford, K. D.; Byron, B. D.; and 13 coauthors LRO-LAMP Lunar South Pole Cold Traps: Assessment of H2O and Potential CO2 and NH3 Reserves Aug 2023 Journal of Geophysical Research (Planets) 128, e2023JE007863
Stansberry, John A.; Fernandez-Valenzuela, Estela; Rieke, Marcia J.; and 2 coauthors Search for Varuna’s Satellite Jun 2023 JWST Proposal. Cycle 3 , 4541
Schambeau, Charles A.; Lilly, Eva; Micheli, Marco; and 3 coauthors 2023 Recovery Observations and Characterization of the Active Centaur P/2010 TO20 (LINEAR-Grauer) Jun 2023 Research Notes of the American Astronomical Society 7, 134

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News and Events

  • UCF’s Planetary Science Rock Stars Guests at MegaCon 2022
  • UCF Planetary Scientist Dan Britt Wins Award from ASCE
  • UCF Experimental Space Dirt Helps to Advance Space Exploration