X-Ray Astronomy: One of the primary activities of this group is to provide scientific and technical support for the Chandra X-ray Observatory (CXO, previously known as AXAF) Project Science. As part of that effort, the members of our group conduct research in various fields of X-ray astronomy, such as Balloon-Borne X-Ray Astronomy & Detector Development, Microwave-Interferometry of the Sunyaev-Zeldovich Effect, Theoretical X-Ray Spectroscopy, and Applied X-ray Optics.
Space Plasma Physics: Our principal objective is to develop an understanding of the physical processes that control the geospace plasma environment and its interaction with both natural and man-made bodies in space. Our unique emphases are on the plasma that originates in the ionosphere and its heating in auroral light displays. The heating causes plasma to escape from Earth's gravity, producing a plasma fountain; this in turn has been found to supply plasma to the acceleration regions that generate disruptive space plasma storms. The basic physics of moving plasmas, and their interactions with bodies in space, provide the fundamental basis for our research.
Heliophysics studies (also called Solar Physics) involve understanding the nature of solar flares, the coronal heating process, sunspot cycles, the solar wind, and interplanetary effects. Projects include or have included the MSFC Vector Magnetograph, the Solar Ultraviolet Magnetograph Instrument (SUMI), the GOES Soft X-Ray Imager, the Yohkoh Mission, the Multi-Spectral Solar Telescope Array (MSSTA), the Ulysses Mission, the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory Mission (SOHO - ESA/NASA), and the Global Oscillations Network Group (GONG - NSF/National Solar Observatory). Most recently, the JAXA/NASA/ESA Hinode project, launched in 2006, is returning high-resolution images in X-ray and visible wavelengths.
Gamma-Ray Astronomy studies at MSFC, have historically made use of data from the Burst and Transient Source Experiment (BATSE) on NASA's Compton Gamma-Ray Observatory. During nine years of successful operation, CGRO recorded observations of Gamma-ray bursts, pulsars, and other transient Gamma-ray phenomena. Although the CGRO was terminated in June 2000, data are archived and available for Gamma-ray astronomy studies. Dr. Gerald Fishman, Principle Investigator for BATSE, was awarded one-half of the 2011 Shaw Prize in Astronomy (Enrico Costa is the other recipient). The award was made for "...leadership of space missions that enabled the demonstration of the cosmological origin of gamma ray bursts, the brightest sources known in the universe."
The Gamma-ray group is currently involved in the Gamma-ray Large Area Space Telescope (GLAST) Burst Monitor Project, which launched 11 June 2008, the telescope is sensitive to Gamma rays in the range of 20 MeV to 300 GeV. The GLAST Burst Monitor (GBM) was selected as a complementary instrument for GLAST and is sensitive to X rays and Gamma rays with energies between 8 keV and 25 MeV.
Planetary Astronomy: The Planetary Astronomy group at Marshall Space Flight Center studies the processes that occur in the creation and evolution of planets and other solar system bodies, with particular emphasis on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids. Research focus areas include geophysical modeling of planetary interiors, surface processes such as impact cratering and sample studies, and planetary plasma environments. We are actively involved in missions and projects including Cassini, the Mars Exploration Rovers, the Lunar Mapping and Modeling project, and development of new lunar missions.