Earth and Planetary Research

A Color View of the Solar System's Innermost Planet  - Mercury

Mercury research in CEPS centers on the study of tectonic features and how they relate to Mercury's geologic past. Understanding these features requires precise topographic information. New topographic data for Mercury is being generated at CEPS using digital stereo techniques, yielding digital terrain models. A planetary mission called MESSENGER provides global coverage in image and other types of data. CEPS scientist Tom Watters is a participant in the Geology Group of the MESSENGER Science Team and is involved in the mission's outreach efforts.


A complete picture of the Venusian surface became available in the 1990s through orbital and Earth-based imaging radar. These images differ from standard photographs, so specialized techniques must be used to interpret the data. To better understand both the radar image data and the types of features seen on Venus, CEPS researchers study volcanoes and landslides on Earth through field work and remote sensing. CEPS researchers are developing a number of Venus geologic maps, using advanced digital presentation and cartographic techniques. Earth-based radar mapping by Bruce Campbell of CEPS is being used to search for possible evidence of surface change over time.

More about Venus research at CEPS


Terrestrial research at CEPS concentrates on the study of geophysical processes on the Earth's surface. These research projects are focused on surface dynamics in arid regions and comparative planetology of volcanic and tectonic landforms. The goals are to better understand processes such as volcanism, flooding, cratering, tectonics, and sand movement, that shape the surface of the Earth as we see it. Researchers at CEPS use field work and remote sensing techniques to investigate geomorphology and environmental changes on the Earth's surface.

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Moon - December 3, 2011

CEPS personnel are involved in a variety of research projects including the study of lunar topography, cratering and impact basins, tectonics, lava flows, and regolith properties. Understanding the surface features and composition give insight into the geologic history and origin of the Moon. Research projects utilize the collections of manned and unmanned lunar photography and data available in the Regional Planetary Image Facility. CEPS scientists participate on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team, and collect new Earth-based radar image data to probe below the surface of the lunar soil and reveal ancient geologic features.

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Mars’ Gale Crater

Mars research at CEPS makes use of traditional photogeological mapping and image interpretation techniques, aided by quantitative analyses of landform shapes and dimensions. Often our investigations also include measurements of the geophysical properties of the Martian surface gained from Earth-based radar and spacecraft remote sensing data. The goals of these studies are to test hypotheses regarding the origin of various landforms or terrains. Many of these studies involve investigations of terrestrial analog sites to gain insight into the potential geologic processes involved. CEPS staff are team members on the Mars Express, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Mars Exploration Rover, and Mars Science Laboratory missions.

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Other Activities
CEPS staff members are involved in a number of projects and collaborations with agencies outside of the Smithsonian, as well as other departments of the National Air and Space Museum. Often in these activities CEPS research plays a key role in enhancing the educational and scientific value of the project.

Learn more about other activites at CEPS