The NMSU Astronomy Department has a long tradition of research excellence in planetary science. Clyde Tombaugh, the discoverer of Pluto, founded the modern department. Long term member Reta Beebe was a member of the Voyager imaging team and an Interdisciplinary Scientist for the Galileo mission to Jupiter, and she helped plan and carry out HST imaging of the giant planets. Dr. Beebe received the American Astronomical Society Division for the Planetary Sciences 2003 Masursky Award, which honors outstanding service to planetary science and exploration. She is currently the chair of the National Academy of Sciences/National Research Council Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration. Dr. Jim Murphy has been involved in studies of the Martian atmosphere using data from the Mars Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, and Mars Odyssey spacecraft missions.
A recent hire, Wladimir Lyra, extends the group’s expertise to exoplanets and planetary formation. He uses sophisticated hydrodynamic simulations of protoplanetary disks to study how planets form in different environments.
The NMSU Astronomy Department also houses the NASA Planetary Data System Atmospheres Discipline Node. This archive for spacecraft and ground-based data related to planetary atmospheres is a national resource, providing data and documentation from NASA solar system missions. The Atmospheres Node is an important component of the NMSU Astronomy Department, providing employment opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students as well as research tools for the planetary science faculty and postdocs.
Today, graduate students interested in planetary studies complete a two semester sequence of courses focusing on planetary atmospheres and the formation of the solar system.
Members of the Planetary Group include the following: