Key Laboratory Studies

  • Determining the physical and chemical properties of ices of various compositions at temperatures of the outer solar system (30 to 50 Kelvin).
  • Studying the photochemical reactions leading to the creation of complex organic compounds.
  • Investigating ion-neutral reactions and reactions of ions with aerosol surfaces.
  • Measuring the adhesion of gases to ices at low (30 to 50 Kelvin) temperatures.

Because some of these laboratory studies are of interest to communities broader than the space sciences, they may be appropriate topics for interdisciplinary cooperation between NASA, the National Science Foundation, and other relevant agencies.

Theoretical Studies.

Researchers need the complementary efforts of theoretical and computational studies to analyze and interpret observational data and provide a framework for understanding its significance. Theory also plays an important role in suggesting future directions for observational and laboratory research.

Key Theoretical Studies

  • Studying orbital dynamics (e.g., the evolution of KBO orbits and the processes responsible for the sunward migration of the Centaurs).
  • Understanding the physics and chemistry of the solar nebula (e.g., modeling the temperature evolution of the solar nebula and the acquisition and/or removal of its volatiles).
  • Investigating the evolution of ices exposed to radiation and low temperatures.
  • Analyzing prebiotic chemical processes.
  • Determining the thermal evolution of objects <2,000 km in diameter.
  • Studying major collisions involving bodies such as Triton and Pluto-Charon.
  • Modeling the process or processes by which Triton was captured by Neptune and Charon was captured by Pluto.
  • Comparing the effects of possible collisional histories and tidal heating on the interior structures of Triton, Pluto, and Charon.


1. Space Studies Board, National Research Council, An Integrated Strategy for the Planetary Sciences: 1995–2010, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C., 1994, p. 186.

2. A. Dressler, ed., Exploration and the Search for Origins: A Vision for Ultraviolet-Optical-Infrared Space Astronomy, report of the HST & Beyond Committee, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Washington, D.C., 1996.

3. H.S. Stockman, ed., Next Generation Space Telescope: Visiting a Time When Galaxies Were Young, report of the NGST Study Team, Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Washington, D.C., 1997.

4. R.V. Yelle and J.L. Elliot, “Atmospheric Structure and Composition: Pluto and Charon,” Pluto and Charon, S.A. Stern and D.J. Tholen, eds., University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona, 1997, p. 347.

5. T.A. Scott, “Solid and Liquid Nitrogen,” Physics Reports 27 (3):85–157, 1976.

6. J.A. Stansberry, J.R. Spencer, B. Schmitt, A. Benchkoura, R.V. Yelle, and J.I. Lunine, “A Model for the Overabundance of Methane in the Atmospheres of Pluto and Triton,” Planetary and Space Sciences 44:1051, 1996.

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