The Planetary Geology Department studies the solid surfaces of planets, moons, and small bodies in the solar system. Geological mapping as well as morphological and spectral analyses provide a record of present-day surface properties, from which the origin and evolution of the studied landscapes and landforms can be deduced in space and time.
The morphological (e.g., shape and texture) and spectral characteristics of rock and soil surfaces reflect various endogenous and exogenous processes. In the case of endogenous processes, the main focus is on the study of magmatic and tectonic events. For exogenic processes, the interaction of rocks and soil with the atmosphere and hydrosphere (gases, water and ice; if present), exosphere and radiation is studied. A very important exogenic process is the generation and redistribution of regolith by impacts in the course of the 4.5 billion year-long history of the solar system.
For these geological studies, remote sensing data obtained by fly-by and orbiter missions (mainly by cameras, spectrometers, laser altimeters, and radar), but also in-situ measurements of stationary or mobile landed missions are analyzed. Terrestrial field studies provide valuable analogue observations. Planetary geology benefits from links to planetary geophysics, mineralogy, and - especially for the planets Mars and Venus - climate and atmospheric science.
The ultimate goal is to understand the geological evolution of planetary bodies from their formation to the present day. This understanding helps to gain information about the early Earth, of whose geological past hardly any traces are preserved today. In this context, assessing the potential habitability of these bodies also plays an increasingly important role.
Key Competences of the Department