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Next-Generation Planetary Geodesy: Unlocking Advances from Mars to Ocean Worlds

Presentation #315.09 in the session Icy Satellites: Surfaces, Ice Shell, and Interior (Poster + Lightning Talk)

Published onOct 23, 2023
Next-Generation Planetary Geodesy: Unlocking Advances from Mars to Ocean Worlds

Geodesy—the study of a planet’s shape, orientation, and gravity field—is a powerful tool for studying planetary processes. This has been best demonstrated at the Earth and Moon, where spacecraft missions have transformed geodesy into a tool that unlocks advances across multiple disciplines. For example: measurements of the Earth’s time-dependent gravity field enable measuring the real-time loss of glaciers due to climate change; measurements of sub-centimeter scale surface deformation with InSAR (Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar)—revolutionizing studies of tectonic, volcanic, and glacial processes; measurements of the Moon’s gravity field to extreme resolution and precision has provided an unprecedented view into the Moon’s crustal structure, revealing buried impact craters, lava tubes, and ancient volcanic features.

While geodesy at the Earth and Moon has flourished, geodesy at other Solar System bodies has lagged. This strategic gap motivated a series of Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) workshops (entitled “Next-Generation Planetary Geodesy”) where we identified specific scientific advances that could be unlocked by future geodetic measurements across the Solar System. In this presentation, we will present a summary of the findings from the final report of the KISS workshops.

Through our KISS workshop, we identified that Mars, Europa, an Enceladus were the Solar System destinations where new geodesy investigations would lead to the most transformative advances. For Ocean Worlds, we identified three driving science questions: (1) What are the interior structures of Ocean Worlds? (2) What are the sources, sinks, and transport mechanisms of mass and energy within Ocean Worlds? (3) What are the habitable environments within an Ocean World, and how long do they persist? For Mars, we identified two driving science questions: (1) What is the geodynamic and tectonic history of Mars, and how does it differ from Earth’s? (2) How do planetary climates respond to orbital forcing? In the report, we identified methods, technologies, and mission concepts that could address these questions. The highest priority mission concepts included geophysical orbiters of Enceladus and Europa, a Mars gravity mapper and InSAR concept, and a Mars geophysical helicopter.

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