Professor Dan Britt and researchers Philip Metzger and Kevin Cannon study the physical properties and compositions of asteroids, moons, and of 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?
We combine laboratory measurements and analysis of spacecraft data to address these questions. In the lab we measure key properties of meteorites–density, porosity, and thermal properties–to better understand what real asteroids and moons are like in space. Recently we have begun to develop highly realistic simulated planetary materials: simulants. These simulants are the best approximation of true regoliths on planetary bodies; they allow us to address unique science questions, and serve as a testbed to develop technologies for in-situ resource utilization and future human exploration.
We have involvement with past and current NASA missions including Mars Pathfinder, New Horizons (Pluto), and Lucy (Trojan Asteroids).