The Center for Planetary Science at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel was established in November 2011.  

The center focuses on the history and environments of other worlds, those in our own solar system and those orbiting other stars. Research addresses questions on the place of Earth among its neighbors, seeking to understand if conditions here represent unique environments or general properties of planets. The subjects addressed include the geology, geophysics, geochemistry, atmospheres, and climate history of other objects. We use spacecraft observations, theoretical models and laboratory experiments to probe these worlds. We seek answers to fundamental questions: have conditions on other planets allowed the emergence of life? Has it happened?

The center bridges between multiple departments at Weizmann, from Environmental Sciences to Astrophysics, and includes participation from faculty and students with a variety of interests.  The Weizmann Institute has recruited four young investigators with expertise in planetary sciences. These scientists have exciting research programs underway in their new labs at the Institute and need the resources to carry out their work in the far reaches of our solar system. They have already generated insights on the geology, geophysics, geochemistry, and climates of planets, including our own:

  • Prof. Oded Aharonson is a scientific member of the Mars Exploration Rover teams and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter probing our own Moon, as well as a member of the Cassini Radar Science Team exploring Saturn and its moons. He creates unique mini-environments in his lab to simulate, as closely as possible, the conditions on Mars and other extraterrestrial locations.
  • Prof. Yohai Kaspi is on NASA’s science team for the Juno spacecraft mission to Jupiter, and is responsible for calculating for the first time the gravitational response of atmospheric dynamics of that giant, gaseous planet. By studying Jupiter’s planetary-scale storms, he develops theories which help better understand Earth’s storm tracks and possible responses to global warming.
  • Prof. Itay Halevy is a geochemist interested in the long-term evolution of the atmospheres and oceans (where they exist) of planets and satellites in the solar system and beyond. He combines geological observations with experimental and numerical simulations to investigate biogeochemical cycles over spatial scales varying from microscopic to planetary. 
  • Prof. Eran Ofek has created novel ways to study the solar system’s last unobserved frontiers — the Oort Cloud, consisting of icy objects orbiting at the outer limits of our solar system — and its closer cousin, the Kuiper Belt. These frozen relics preserve evidence about the formation of our solar system.