Planetary Astronomy Overview:

In 1989, we decided to apply our expertise in wide-angle (all-sky) imaging to a much narrower field-of-view (6°) using a small refractor (10 cm lens) pointed at Jupiter. We discovered the large sodium nebula that comes from Jupiter’s moon Io, waxing and waning with volcanic activity. It is sub-visual, spanning ~1000 radii of Jupiter, and thus the largest permanently visible object in the Solar System. Using this capability, we then pointed our telescope at the Moon, imaging for the first time its vast sodium cloud and tail. Later studies imaged sodium tails in comets and, most recently, associated with the planet Mercury. A PowerPoint presentation summarizing these studies can be viewed HERE.

Virtually all of our planetary imaging studies were conducted using instrumentation at “BU Station” at the McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis, Texas. This facility and its instrumentation are described elsewhere on this site.

Since 2014, our BU Station at McDonald has been used almost exclusively by former graduate student Carl Schmidt during his post-doctoral studies at the University of Virginia. Dr. Schmidt’s research enabled by observations from BU Station can be viewed HERE

Summaries of past sodium imaging studies can be seen by clicking on each of these bodies:

Mars and Saturn. Our newest program comes from the selection of Boston University for an NSF INSPIRE inter-disciplinary science award in Comparative Ionospheres.

For Mars, we are (a) developing a Mars Initial Reference Ionosphere (MIRI) model and (b) conducting Participating Scientist studies of observations taken by NASA’s MAVEN mission (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN). These have linked goals----MIRI is a semi-empirical model developed from ionospheric observations made by instruments on Mars Express. We now use MAVEN observations as validation targets and, ultimately, as new comprehensive sources of data for MIRI upgrades. (c) A NASA Mars Data Analysis Program (MDAP) effort now underway is to study the total electron content (TEC) of the martian ionosphere using observations from the MARSIS and SHARAD radars on the Mars Express and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter satellites.

Research efforts dealing with Saturn and Jupiter continue to advance model development and validation for giant planet ionospheres. These are now augmented by new types of observations. The most recent initiatives and results appear in

The NSF INSPIRE Program seeks projects that would not normally be selected within one of its divisions because it involves some activities in a different division. Realizing that such programmatic barriers need to be overcome, NSF evaluates such projects in both divisions simultaneously. The Boston University four-year program for COMPARATIVE IONOSPHERIC SCIENCE --- Earth, Solar System, Exo-Planets begins in late 2015 with sponsorship between the Aeronomy Program in the Division of Earth Science and the Planetary Astronomy Program in the Division of Physics and Mathematical Sciences. A description of goals and periodic updates for results will appear on