Planetary Group -- Research

Faculty and Postdoctoral Researchers:

Tilden Barnes
Tilden primarily works with the PDS-SBN assisting with dataset validation, final data archiving duties, maintaining archive integrity, maintaining a local database, and other programming duties.
James "Gerbs" Bauer
Dennis Bodewits
Dennis Bodewits is particularly interested in the activity and evolution of comets and asteroids. He studies how comets are connected to the primordial disk, how they evolve through activity, and what processes affect the observable gas surrounding them. To do this, his research combines experimental atomic and molecular physics with telescopic observations acquired from Earth and in situ measurements by planetary missions. As a co-investigator of the Rosetta-OSIRIS camera system he studied a range of phenomena around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, ranging from deep pits on the surface to plasma processes in the coma. He leads the comet time domain observing program of the new Zwicky Transient Facility.
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Drake Deming
Drake Deming works on characterization of the atmospheres of extrasolar planets using transit and eclipse techniques. He observes transiting exoplanetary systems using Hubble and Spitzer, and also using ground-based telescopes. Drake also has an interest in spectroscopy of planetary atmospheres in the Solar System.
Tony Farnham
Tony's research has primarily focussed on studies of comets, Centaurs and Kuiper Belt objects. Most recently, he has been utilizing the coma morphology (jets, etc.) observed in different comets to infer the rotational characteristics of their nuclei and to find the locations of active regions that produce the jets. Other recent cometary studies include using narrowband photometry to determine the gas production rates for various comets and modeling dust tails to infer some of the characteristics of the dust grains and to determine the activity levels of the comet as a function of time. He also observes the lightcurves of Centaurs and Kuiper belt objects to determine their physical and rotational characteristics. His other interests include the evolutionary processes and relationships between comets, Centaurs and KBOs, solar system formation, celestial mechanics and digital image processing.
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Lori Feaga
Lori is a planetary scientist with a background in spectroscopy. As a graduate student, she studied UV spectra of Io to determine the composition and distribution of Io's tenuous atmosphere. More recently, she has been involved in studies of the composition, production, and distribution of volatiles in the atmospheres of Jupiter family comets. She was a science team member on the Deep Impact mission to comet Tempel 1 and was able to map carbon dioxide around a comet for the first time. She was a Co-I on DIXI to comet Hartley 2 where she was again able to map the inner coma's water and carbon dioxide concentrations. With DIXI, she took her expertise into the classroom as the Education and Public Outreach Lead on the mission. As a Co-I on the Rosetta mission's UV spectrograph, Alice, she studied flyby targets Steins and Lutetia, asteroids en-route to comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko (C-G), and is in the process of planning the Rosetta encounter with C-G alongside many other mission team members. Combined with the work of others in the planetary small bodies community, her work on the composition of comets will shed light on their history in the Solar System.
Douglas Hamilton
Doug's primary research is as a theorist attempting to understand the Solar System using dynamical models. His computer modeling includes studies on orbital dynamics of planetary rings, non-gravitational forces, planetary formation and the dynamical evolution of the Solar System.
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Tilak Hewagama
Ben Hirsch
Ben works in the Small Bodies Node, helping to prepare and validate datasets according to PDS4 standards, and migrate PDS3 datasets to PDS4.
Mike Kelley
Mike observes and models comets to measure the size, structure, and composition of comet dust. He uses polarimetry, dust dynamics, and thermal emission spectra to build a better dust model, which can help us understand the physical processes that occur in protoplanetary disks. Mike also studies comet nuclei and asteroids. He is interested in their physical evolution in today's solar system, especially to constrain how much they have changed since their formation, 4.5 billion years ago.
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Ludmilla Kolokolova
Ludmilla's main scientific interest is physics of all types of cosmic dust (interplanetary, interstellar, and circumstellar dust and planetary aerosols) and small bodies (comets, asteroids, satellites of planets, and Kuiper-Belt objects). She uses remote sensing and in-situ methods to study these objects focusing on spectrophotometry and polarimetry. She has participated in the development of astronomical and space instrumentation, and theoretical and laboratory simulations of light scattering by particles and surfaces. She is also the manager of the Small Bodies Node of the NASA Planetary Data System and works on archiving the data obtained at space-mission and ground-based observations of comets, asteroids and interplanetary (zodiacal) dust.
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Matthew Knight
Matthew studies comets, primarily focusing on investigations of their morphology and brightness behavior in order to infer properties of their nuclei. He mostly uses ground-based optical and near-IR telescopes for these investigations, frequently using Lowell Observatory's Discovery Channel Telescope through UMD's guaranteed time arrangement. He is a world expert in near-Sun comets and has a long-standing research program analyzing comets observed with the space-based solar observatories SOHO and STEREO. Recently, he initiated a program to study near-Sun asteroids in order to investigate evolutionary effects of these extreme orbits and to better understand the hazard to Earth posed by near-Earth objects (both cometary and asteroidal) on near-Sun orbits. Other funded projects in which he is involved include coma and nucleus studies of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko using the Alice UV spectrograph on the Rosetta mission, analysis of optical and UV observations of comets observed by the MESSENGER mission to Mercury, monitoring the activity of apparent comets residing in the main asteroid belt, and a study of orbital trends in activity in comets observed with the Spitzer space telescope.
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Tim McConnochie

Silvia Protopapa
The main theme of Silvia's research is the analysis of photometric and spectroscopic data acquired from ground (VLT) and space (Herschel, Deep Impact) in the visible, near and far infrared to infer the physical properties, e.g. albedo, colours, surface and coma composition, of small bodies in the Solar System, in particular Transneptunian objects and comets.
Anne Raugh
Anne is the principal programmer, database administrator and web master for the Small Bodies Node of the NASA Planetary Data System, located here at UMCP under the direction of Mike A'Hearn. She will be providing similar support for the Deep Impact mission archives. She recently completed a Bachelor of Music Theory degree so that when she tells her young nephews that their music is crap, she can back it up with diagrams.
Derek Richardson
Derek's primary interest is understanding the origins of the solar system through dynamical modeling. His specialty is planetesimal dynamics, which includes planet formation (origins of solar systems), collision dynamics, planetary rings, granular dynamics, and binary asteroids.
personal page
research gallery
Dan Robinson
Jessica Sunshine
Elizabeth Warner
Since joining the department, Elizabeth has had a number of roles. She has been a part of the Education/Public Outreach (EPO) teams for a number of missions such as Deep Impact, EPOXI, and Dawn missions. She maintains and has designed a number of sites including the Amateur Observers' Program, the department website, UMD Observatory, and PDS-SBN website. Currently, she continues to mentor SDU students at the UMD Observatory, coordinate activities at the Observatory, and maintain the PDS-SBN website.
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Dennis Wellnitz
Currently the majority of his effort is in support of the NASA Discovery mission Deep Impact. He is the Technical Contract Monitor for the University of Maryland (UM) Instruments Contract with Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp., located in Boulder Colorado. Though much of his monitoring is done from the University by way of telecons and NetMeeting, he spends an average of about one week per month on location in Boulder, and at times like instrument integration and testing, intends to be on-site for all critical events. He also provides general Deep Impact Science Team support, investigating and looking out for the science interests and issues that arise during the design and production of the instruments and spacecraft.
Dennis also provides technical and outreach support for the UM Observatory and for the Astronomy Department, working to maintain and improve the technical capabilities of the Observatory and the Department.
Working with Lucy McFadden, he has contributed to the first NASA Discovery mission NEAR (Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous). With the MSI-NIS team, he worked on the Near Infrared Spectrometer (NIS) and the Multi-Spectral Imaging Camera (MSI), calibrating the NIS, developing and implementing data verification and validation procedures, and working on data analysis and interpretation. Currently he and Lucy hope for funding from the NEAR Data Analysis Program to continue this work.
Coming from a background of instrument design and construction, he has worked on improving the UM Comet Imaging and Spectroscopy System, and more recently on upgrading the UM Occultation System, as well as data reduction and analysis from these and other instruments, most notably comet observations using the Echelle spectrometers on the KPNO 4-m Mayall telescope and the Keck 10-m telescope.
Through the Technology Extension Service of the UM Engineering Research Center, he provides consultation on optics-related issues to Maryland businesses.
Through a grant from the Maryland Industrial Partnerships, he is also working with the Maryland company LeaTech to improve their wind-tunnel sensor systems.

Graduate Students:

Mahmuda Afrin-Badhan
Dana Louie
Thomas Rimlinger
Zeeve Rogoszinski
Kyle Sheppard
Kyle Sheppard is a 3rd year graduate student who works on characterizing exoplanet atmospheres using transit and secondary eclipse data from Hubble's WFC3 instrument with his advisors, Dr. Drake Deming (UMD) and Dr. Avi Mandell (NASA-GSFC).
Amy Steele

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Past Graduate Students in Planetary Science:

  • Ashlee Wilkins (2017)
  • Maggie McAdam (2017)
  • Ron Ballouz (2017)
  • Holly Sheets (2016)
  • Jonathan Fraine (2015)
  • Jessica Donaldson (2014)
  • Alan Gersch (2013)
  • Steve Schwartz (2013)
  • Daniel Jontof-Hutter (2012)
  • Randall Perrine (2011)
  • Catherine Philpott (2010)
  • Yana Radeva (2010)
  • Matthew Knight (2008)
  • Ke Zhang (2007)
  • Kevin Walsh (2006)
  • Donna Pierce (2005)
  • Jianyang Li (2005)
  • Kelly Fast (2005
  • Zoe Leinhardt (2005)
  • Laura Woodney (2000)
  • Yan Fernandez (1999)
  • Carey Lisse (1992)
  • Nalin Samarasinha (1992)
  • Sue Hoban (1989)
  • Dave Schleicher (1983)
  • Marla Moore (1981)
  • H. Frey (1977)
  • Frank Ahern (1972)
  • Don Yeomans (1970)
  • E. Silverberg (1969)
  • Full list of all graduate alumni and theses
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