Planetary Sciences Division

Chairman: Prof. Varun Sheel


We study solar system objects, their atmospheres, surfaces and interiors, and governing processes using planetary exploration (i.e., spacecraft-based observations), laboratory experiments, physics-based theoretical/ numerical modelling, and computer simulations. Our objective is to improve the fundamental understanding of the planetary bodies using the best available scientific tools and technology.

The broad areas we focus are: (i) Atmosphere/ environment, plasma physics and astrochemistry, (ii) Origin/ evolution of the solar system, (iii) Planetary Geology via Remote sensing, and (iv) instrumentation. The division is equipped with cutting-edge space-instrumentation laboratories, state-of-the-art laboratory facilities to study extra-terrestrial material (meteorites, mission returned samples) and analogues, and use the PRL Vikram super-computer for the theoretical and numerical work.

In addition to this, we also align investigations to facilitate and fulfil the requirements of Indian space missions for planetary exploration at the level of conceptualization, science, instrument design, implementation, experiments, data analysis, etc. The division is extensively engaged in conceptualizing, developing and delivering the scientific instruments for our future missions like Chandrayaan-3, Aditya L1, and for the upcoming mission to Venus and Mars.

Research on Planetary Atmospheres/ environments

It encompasses the studies connected with atmospheres/ environments of the inner solar system objects like planets, the Moon, natural/ artificial satellites, asteroids, comets, etc.

We aim at supporting and contributing to the space missions probing the planetary atmospheres. Our research focus on exploring the dynamical evolution, composition, structure, and electrodynamics & plasma (including dust) behaviour of the planetary environment and inherent physical processes. We apply the basic and applied concepts of physics (and geophysics) to investigate the aforesaid aspects using theoretical/ numerical modelling, simulation, data analysis, and lab studies as tools.

In addition, mission data is vital in understanding the subject and validating the models. In this reference, we use Mars, Venus, and Moon data (from ISRO & foreign agencies like NASA, ESA, JAXA) to explore the various exciting features of their atmosphere to improve the fundamental understanding of the planetary atmosphere and look into its implications for planned missions. We also have lab facilities to simulate the planetary atmosphere and conceptualize testbed experiments to execute the instrumentation for forthcoming Indian planetary exploration missions, for instance, missions to Moon, Venus, and Mars. The studies in connection with the plasma environment on Moon/ Venus/ Mars, lightning on Venus/ Mars, and thermophysical properties of the Moon/ Mars are the active projects. We also study the astrochemical processes to explore the molecular complexity and their implications in the astrophysical environments.

The research areas are further classified as follows:

1. Planetary Laboratory Analysis Section (PLAS)

    Section Head: Prof. Kuljeet K. Marhas

The focus of the research under this section is to understand timescales and processes in the origin and evolution of the solar system by laboratory analyses of the extraterrestrial material (meteorites or mission returned samples) and analogues. The Laboratory analyses comprise of chemical and mineralogical characterization, spectroscopy, and isotopic compositions, and are backed with theoretical work.  In addition, research areas also include aqueous, thermal, differentiation, and impact processes in planetary bodies and the mantle and crustal evolution of Moon and Mars.   Presolar grains are studied to understand the nucleosynthetic input in our Solar system. Organics from meteorites are analysed, in order to understand their origin into the evolving system.

2. Planetary Remote Sensing Section (PRSS)

    Section Head: Dr. Neeraj Srivastava

The primary focus of our section is to understand the formation and evolution of the various planetary bodies of our solar system using data from planetary remote sensing missions of ISRO and foreign space agencies. Currently, we are studying the Moon using data from Chandrayaan-1 & 2 (ISRO), Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO, NASA), and Kaguya (JAXA). Intricacies of the Red Planet Mars are being unfolded utilizing data from Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM, ISRO), Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO, NASA), Mars Global Surveyor (MGS, NASA), Mars Express (ESA), and Mars Odyssey (NASA). Specifically, our motivation is to understand planetary processes, viz. impact cratering, volcanism, tectonism, space weathering, glacial, fluvial, and mass wasting by means of studying surface topography, geomorphology, crater-chronology, and surface/subsurface composition. Besides the concerned planetary bodies, these studies have implications for our understanding of Mother Earth, for which most of the evidence is lost due to its dynamic nature. We also conduct site suitability studies and landing site characterization for future in-situ (Chandrayaan-3 and ISRO-JAXA LuPEX) and sample return missions.

We have developed a state-of-the-art laboratory for reflectance spectroscopy of planetary materials and their terrestrial analogs under simulated conditions to support remote sensing observations. These studies play a vital role in payload characterization and assist in analyzing data from future planetary missions and ground-based observations.

3. Planetary Instrumentation Development Section (PIDS)

    Section Head: Dr. M. Shanmugam

Many of the research objectives of planetary science are achieved through planetary exploration, for which the development of scientific instruments for the planetary missions, is the prime focus of this section. In the last two decades, ISRO is actively working on Planetary exploration missions and there are several planetary missions planned in the future as well. PRL has played a crucial role in planning and executing these missions and also actively contributing in the development of scientific instruments to study the surface, subsurface and atmosphere of the planetary bodies. PRL has developed scientific instruments for Chandrayaan-1 (High Energy X-ray Spectrometer – HEX), Chandrayaan-2 (Solar X-ray monitor – XSM), Chandrayaan-2&3 (Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer – APXS and Chandra’s Surface Thermophysical Experiment – ChaSTE) and Aditya L1 (Aditya Solar wind Particle EXperiment – ASPEX) missions. There are several scientific instruments are being developed for the upcoming Venus Orbiter, ISRO-JAXA Rover, Mars Orbiter Mission – 2 and other upcoming planetary/space missions.

Research topics for Ph. D program  

 Ø Physics, Theory, Modelling, Simulation, Data analysis, and Lab studies  

  • Physical processes and Fluid Mechanics of Planetary Atmospheres (Mars & Venus) using Climate Models and Data from Planetary Missions (e.g., MOM, MGS, Mars Odyssey, Venus Express)

  • Fundamental & Applied Aspects of Complex (Dusty) Plasmas to Planetary Atmosphere

  • Electrodynamics & Plasma Environment on Airless Bodies (Moon & other satellites)
  • Interplanetary Dust Particles (IDPs) at Planets/Moons
  • Lightning on Planets & Atmospheric/ Ionospheric Electromagnetic Wave Propagation 

Ø  Remote sensing studies

  • Geological evolution & Exploration of the Moon & Mars using Remote Sensing
  • Planetary remote sensing of inner solar system bodies
  • Quantification of lunar surface composition detection and OH and H2O at lunar poles

Ø  Astrochemistry

  • Study of molecular complexity in Astrophysical Environments (e.g., star-forming regions, comets, exoplanets, etc.)

Ø  Solar system Origin Studies 

  • Stellar Nucleosynthesis and pre-solar grains
  • Early solar system

Ø  Geology

  • Geochemical study of extra-terrestrial samples and mission data
  • Planetary analogues to Moon and Mars
  • Mineralogy and Isotope studies of Meteorite.

Ø  Exploration through Instrumentation

  • To study the Effect of X-rays and particles on the Venus atmosphere.
  • Planetary Geophysics and Heat flow Studies
  • Instrumentation for Planetary Exploration


Courses Offered to Research Fellows:

  • Planetary Atmospheres
  • Modeling of Earth and Planetary Atmospheres
  • Complex (dusty) Plasma Physics
  • Planetary Remote Sensing and Reflectance Spectroscopy
  • Physics and Chemistry of the Solar System
  • Isotopes in Planetary Science
  • Nuclear Physics and Applications
  • Numerical and Statistical Methods