solar system

Knights in Space

Since our beginnings in 1963 as one of America’s first “space universities,” UCF researchers have focused their attention beyond our Central Florida skies to investigate cosmic mysteries about nearly every planet in the solar system, plus a few other celestial objects.

Tap on an item below to see how UCF researchers are involved

Mercury

Messenger

Researcher: Todd Bradley, principal investigator for Planetary Mission Data Analysis Program grant

Todd Bradley Portrait
Todd Bradley Associate scientist at Florida Space Institute (FSI)

Objective: To learn more about the thin exosphere of Mercury, the smallest and swiftest planet in our solar system

Status: In progress


Image of Mercury, acquired by the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) aboard NASA's MESSENGER mission on April 23, 2013
This image of Mercury, acquired by the Mercury Dual Imaging System (MDIS) aboard NASA’s MESSENGER mission on April 23, 2013, provides a more detailed view of Mercury’s surface. (Image Courtesy of NASA)

Earth’s Moon

Resource Prospector

Researcher: Philip Metzger, cooperating scientist

Objective: To examine the soil on the moon’s poles in order to excavate potential resources including hydrogen, oxygen and water.

Status: Planning



Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute

Researcher: Adrienne Dove, co-investigator

Objective: To understand the dynamics of dust on and near the lunar surface to prepare for future manned and unmanned missions to the moon and asteroids.

Status: In progress


Artist's concept of NASA's Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft in orbit above the moon
Artist’s concept of NASA’s Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer spacecraft in orbit above the moon as dust scatters light during the lunar sunset.

Asteroid

OSIRIS-REx

Researchers: Humberto Campins, co-investigator, and Yan Fernandez, contributing scientist

Objective: To send a spacecraft to the asteroid Bennu, one of the oldest in the solar system, and bring back samples to analyze.

Status: In progress


Artist's rendering of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft as it approaches the asteroid Bennu.
Artist’s rendering of the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft as it approaches the asteroid Bennu. (Image courtesy of NASA)

Mars

Curiosity

Researcher: Daniel Britt

Objective: To develop and build radiometric calibration targets that enable scientists to “see” Mars colors as they are on Earth.

Status: In progress (have been used on every Mars rover)


Self-portrait of NASA's Curiosity rover.
This self-portrait of NASA’s Curiosity rover shows the vehicle at the “Mojave” site. (Image courtesy of NASA)

Jupiter

Galileo

Researcher: Ramon Lugo, NASA engineer

Objective: To measure the atmosphere of Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, and observe the planet and its moons from orbit.

Status: Completed


Rendering of Galileo orbiter
As it arrived at Jupiter on December 7, 1995, NASA’s Galileo orbiter received a stream of data transmissions — represented by the blue dots in this artist’s depiction — from the atmospheric probe that was descending through Jupiter’s clouds. (Image courtesy of NASA)

Saturn

Cassini

Researcher: Joshua Colwell, co-investigator

Objective: To observe, analyze and interpret data from Saturn’s rings using an ultraviolet imaging spectrograph.

Status: To be completed September 2017


Image of Saturn's rings
Most planetary rings appear to be shaped, at least in part, by moons orbiting their planets, but nowhere is that more evident than in Saturn’s F ring. (Image courtesy of NASA)

Uranus

Voyager 2

Researcher: Joshua Colwell, science team member

Objective: To study the structure, origin and history of the rings of Uranus and Neptune.

Status: Completed


Image of Uranus rings
Backlit view shows continuous distribution of fine particles throughout ring system. (Image courtesy of NASA)

Neptune

Voyager 2

Researcher: Joshua Colwell, science team member

Objective: To study the structure, origin and history of the rings of Uranus and Neptune.

Status: Completed


Image of Neptune's rings.
Detail of Neptune’s rings. (Image courtesy of NASA)

Pluto

New Horizons

Researcher: Alan Stern, principal investigator

Objective: To study the surface composition, atmosphere and temperature of the icy dwarf planet Pluto and its moon Charon.

Status: In progress


Kuiper Belt

New Horizons

Researchers: Alan Stern, principal investigator, and Daniel Britt, science team member

Objective: To study the solar system’s outskirts and discover how ice dwarf planets have evolved over time.

Status: In progress


Image of the dark side of Pluto
NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft capture this image of the dark side of Pluto. (Image courtesy of NASA)

Upsilon Andromedae B

Spitzer Exoplanet Targets of Opportunity Program

Researcher: Joseph Harrington, principal investigator

Objective: To measure the chemistry and temperature of the atmosphere of exoplanets, which are planets that orbit stars other than the sun.

Status: In progress


Illustration of Upsilon Andromedae B
An artist’s rendering shows Upsilon Andromedae b, a planet that is made of gas like Jupiter but orbits its star significantly closer than Mercury does the sun.