Planetary Group -- Research

Faculty and Postdoctoral Researchers:

Michael F. A'Hearn
Mike was a Distinguished University Professor until he retired in 2011 and is now a Professor Emeritus and a Research Professor. He was the PI both for the Deep Impact mission and the EPOXI mission in NASA's Discovery program. He is currently the PI for the Small Bodies Node of NASA's Planetary Data System. His research has for many years emphasized comets and extended also to asteroids. Observational studies have included observations of comets at all wavelengths from EUV to radio to study the nuclei, the dust, and the gas. He has also participated in the major programs to observe occultations of asteroids as means of determining their size and shape. He has also done numerical simulations to interpret his observations. His graduate students have made successful careers both on the observational and on the theoretical side of cometary astronomy.
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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.
Dennis Bodewits
Dennis is a planetary scientist with a background in high energy astrophysics. His research focuses on the formation and evolution of planetary systems, with the specific goal of understanding the interaction of the star with the materials that surround it. As an EPOXI science team member, he intends to measure the abundances and production rates of gas and dust produced by the comet.
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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
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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Tim Livengood
Tim Livengood is a planetary scientists who gets around. He has studied stratospheres and mesospheres throughout the solar system using high spectral-resolving power infrared spectroscopy to get at these regions, which have the nice property of being transparent and thus accessible to study from top to bottom to understand the flow of chemistry and energy in planetary atmospheres. He has investigated auroras on Jupiter and Saturn in both infrared and ultraviolet light. As a member of the EPOXI team, he led the effort to investigate Earth and Mars as models for terrestrial exoplanets. Recent work includes investigating the isotopic composition in the atmosphere of Mars, measuring temperatures and wind velocity in the upper atmosphere of Venus, and counting lunar neutrons to understand where there may be water available on our own Moon.
Lev Nagdimunov
Noah Petro
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.
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research gallery
Marcia Segura
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
Ron Ballouz
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Dana Louie
Maggie McAdam
Maggie McAdam is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Maryland. She completed a M.S. degree in astronomy at UMD (2013) and graduated from Mount Holyoke College, with honors in 2010 with a double major in astronomy and physics. Maggie studies the relationships the composition of meteorites and asteroids using near- and mid-infrared spectroscopy. As part of her PhD thesis research she has used the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) to study main belt asteroids and recently had the opportunity to fly with the telescope out of Palmdale CA. In addition to a passion for science, she also works on equality issues in science including teaching-as-research projects in the classroom and campus wide projects. She also works to inspire the next generation of planetary scientists by participating in outreach events such as the New England Air Museum's annual Space Expo.
Thomas Rimlinger
Zeeve Rogoszinski
Holly Sheets
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Kyle Sheppard
Kyle Sheppard is a first year graduate student who recieved his Distinguished B.A. in Astronomy-Physics from the UNiversity of Virginia in 2015. He currently works on characterizing exoplanet atmospheres using data from Hubble's WFC3 instrument with his advisors, Dr. Drake Deming (UMD) and Dr. Avi Mandell (NASA-GSFC).

Past Graduate Students in Planetary Science:

  • Ron Ballouz ()
  • Jonathan Fraine ()
  • 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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