Research Groups

Planetary Imaging Group (PIG)

LAPIS - Laboratory for Analysis of Planetary and Interplanetary Data Sets

Our group is involved in past, current and future remote-sensing instruments onboard several spacecraft missions exploring Mars (IMP, HiRISE, CRISM, CaSSIS), Titan (DISR), comets (HMC, OSIRIS), Mercury (BELA), Europa and Ganymede (GALA). We analyse data and select targets for future observations. Using multiple datasets, we study the influence of water and ices on the evolution of the martian surface, the dynamic surfaces of comets and we are preparing to analyse altimeter data of Mercury surface.

As Co-Investigators on the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) – the high resolution imaging system on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), launched in 2005, we investigate geyser activity, polar layered deposits of polar cap, flow structures in Hellas and Argyre bassins and desiccation processes on the Martian surface. We have developed a laboratory expertise in analysing multiple datasets, synergizing topography, visible imaging and composition of peculiar surface targets. Building on this expertise, we proposed and built the Colour and Stereo Scientific Imaging System (CaSSIS) for the ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter launched in 2016 by ESA.

Our scientific goals are focused on fluids and ices on Mars, and on both Mars natural satellites:

- Polar caps
- CO2 Sublimation in the Southern Hemisphere
- Ice in Mid-Latitude Craters
- Recurring Slope Lineae (RSL)
- Flow processes associated to liquid water on Mars
- Banded Terrain in Hellas Basin
- Phobos/Deimos


Nicolas Thomas was also involved in the analysis of images taken from the surface of Mars by the Imager for Mars Pathfinder (IMP).

We have already successfully participated in the observations of Tempel 1 in 2005, Steins in 2008 and Lutetia in 2010. As part of the OSIRIS team, we analysed the images acquired by the camera OSIRIS of the ESA mission Rosetta to the comet 67P/ Churyumov-Gerasimenko. For the first time a spacecraft has orbited around a comet during two years, from 2014 to 2016, allowing a continuous monitoring of the nucleus at distances close to perihelion. We analysed the large data set of surface observations which revealed an unexpected and incredible diversity of surface features. We defined and mapped geomorphological regions and we investigated specific features such as exposed H2O ice patches, fractures and dust redistribution features. We have also identified surface changes and activity drive by the outgassing of the comet as it orbit around the Sun. Data analysis is still going on and we are intending to understand the interaction between the surface and the dusty-gas outflow within the first few hundred of meters from the cometary nucleus.

In the future, the LAPIS will also focus on the analysis of the data returned by the laser altimeter we are building for the BepiColombo ESA mission to Mercury (BELA), as well as the laser altimeter for JUICE (GALA) to the Jupiter system. Preparing for the analysis of BELA data, we are currently investigating the roughness of Mercury using the latest data from the MLA laser altimeter onboard the Messenger NASA mission.

- BELA Testing and Analysis
- Laser Altimetry Studies