Planetary Physics – Niels Bohr Institute - University of Copenhagen

Planetary Physics

Planetary Physicists study earth-like planets, and in our own solar system they have mainly focussed on the moon and Mars, but the planetary physicists are also searching for earth-like planets in other solar systems.

The Mars Group work on clarifying the role water has played on Mars. How much there was, where did it come from and is it still there? The pressure and temperature on Mars is so low that water can not be found in liquid form, but there are icecaps at the poles. By studying the ice's ability to flow, the amount of ice which is water , and how much is CO2 , can be discovered. The group has developed some special instruments with magnets, which were sent up with the American Mars Mission, Phoenix in 2007 from NASA in Florida. The magnets collect dust from the red sediments on Mars to examine whether the magnetic iron minerals were formed by volcanic activity, by ultra-violet radiation or by an oxidation process with water.

The Earth's moon is much bigger than the other planets' moons. It is so big that astronomers almost consider the Earth and the Moon as twin planets. But where did it come from and how was it formed? The newest theory is that a big planet the size of Mars collided with the Earth, whereupon both planets broke in pieces. The material gradually gathered together into one large planet - Earth, where all the heavy elements such as iron and other metals were pulled into the centre and formed a core. But some of the broken-up material collected itself into a smaller ‘planet' and formed the moon. Researchers at the Niels Bohr Institute are working on a completely new model calculation on supercomputers and they suggest that the collision theory could be right.

The First Earth-like planet in the Milky Way was observed by Danish astronomers together with an international research team with the help of a Danish telescope at LA Silla Observatory in Chile. The planet is of course too cold for people to live on. The discovery was made using a method where light from powerful background stars which is reflected and strengthened on the way to Earth by intervening stars, is studied.

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