Results from NASA's Kepler planet-hunting mission have indicated that the most common planets in the galaxy are super-Earths—those that are bigger than Earth but smaller than Neptune. We have no examples of these planets in our own solar system, so Heather Knutson, assistant professor of planetary science at Caltech, and her colleagues are using space telescopes to try to find out more about these worlds. They hope to shed some light on the processes of planet formation and evolution and to be able to say something about how common or rare our solar system is when compared to those found throughout the universe.
Established in 2008 with funding from the W. M. Keck Foundation and support from JPL, the Keck Institute for Space Studies (KISS) was created at Caltech to develop revolutionary concepts and technology for future space missions by taking advantage of opportunities for increased collaboration between researchers on campus and at JPL. It does so operating as a "think and do tank."
In 1964, Caltech astronomy professor Guido Münch and Jet Propulsion Laboratory space scientists Lewis Kaplan and Hyron Spinrad pushed the world's second-largest telescope to its limits and dashed—at least for the next few decades—any hopes of finding liquid water on Mars.
Using gravity measurements collected by NASA's Cassini spacecraft, scientists have confirmed that Saturn's moon Enceladus harbors a large subsurface ocean near its south pole, fueling plumes first seen in 2005.
If you ask Andy Ingersoll how Caltech has contributed to our understanding of the universe, he will tell you, "Caltech invented planetary science!" And since the field's origins just fifty years ago, Caltech has become one of the top centers of planetary science research in the world.
Bruce Churchill Murray, Caltech Professor of Planetary Science, Emeritus, and former head of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), succumbed to complications of Alzheimer's disease on August 29, 2013. He was 81.