Planetary Atmospheres Group

2012 - 2017

PLANET TOPERS stands for Planets, Tracing the Transfer, Origin, Preservation, and Evolution of their ReservoirS.

The group is an Inter-university attraction pole (IAP) financed by the Belgian Science Policy (BELSPO) and addressing the question of habitability in our Solar System.

Based on the only known example of Earth, the concept of habitability refers to whether environmental conditions are available that could eventually support life, even if life does not currently exist.

Terrestrial life requires liquid water. The stability of liquid water at the surface of a planet defines a habitable zone around a star. In the Solar System, it stretches between Venus and Mars, but excludes these two planets. If the greenhouse effect is taken into account, the habitable zone may have included Mars in the past while the case of Venus is still debated. Important geodynamic processes affect the habitability conditions of a planet. The group works in an interdisciplinary approach to understand habitability. The dynamic processes, e.g. internal dynamo, magnetic field, atmosphere, plate tectonics, mantle convection, volcanism, thermo-tectonic evolution, meteorite impacts, and erosion, all impact on the planetary surface, the presence or not of liquid water, the thermal state, the energy budget and the availability of nutrients.

The Space Physics Division and the Planetary Aeronomy group of IASB-BIRA are involved in the part of the project that deals with the thermal-chemical evolution of planetary atmospheres (net loss, sources and chemical reactions) and its interaction with surface, hydrosphere, cryosphere, and space to determine the evolution of pressure, temperature and composition in time, and the existence or not of liquid water. This includes the greenhouse effect and the regulating role of a magnetosphere on atmospheric losses. The comets and asteroids volatile mass influx from space into the atmosphere are dealt with as well.

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