Dr. Walter S. Kiefer
Lunar and Planetary Institute
3600 Bay Area Blvd.
Houston, Texas 77058
I study the geophysical evolution of the Moon, Mars, Venus, and differentiated meteorite parent bodies. I was a member of the science team for NASA's GRAIL mission, which explored the internal structure of the Moon using very high resolution gravity mapping. I also participate in educational outreach programs that communicate the results of NASA's solar system exploration program to teachers, students, and the general public.
Planetary Geophysics Research
My research activities are in the field of planetary geophysics. I develop computer simulations of mantle convection and heat transport in the interiors of planets, and I analyze observations of planets made by NASA spacecraft, particularly measurements of planetary gravity and topography and images of surface features. I also participate in lab studies of the physical properties of rocks, such as their densities and melting temperatures, which help to constrain the computer models. My goal is to combine models and observations in order to understand the current internal structure of Mars, Venus, the Moon, and Earth, as well as the processes that have controlled the evolution of these planets.
I was a member of the science team for NASA's GRAIL mission and am using gravity and topography observations of the Moon to better understand the structure and origin of its volcanos and impact basins. My lab studies of lunar rocks help to constrain the densities used in the gravity models.
My models of mantle convection on Mars emphasize both the long term thermal evolution of Mars as well as magma genearation in present-day mantle plumes. These studies involve both computer models as well as laboratory studies of the melting of the martian mantle. My models of the gravity anomalies at large highland volcanos such as Syrtis Major and Apollinaris Mons reveal details of the magma chambers that fed these volcanos and provide our first clear look at the magmatic plumbing of Mars.
My studies of Venus focus on the relationship between mantle convection and surface features, such as large shield volcanos and rift zones. The results of these studies demonstrate the dynamic nature of the interior of Venus.
Education and Public Outreach
In addition to my research work, I have also contributed to many educational outreach programs at LPI. These include:
I have served as an instructor for many professional development workshops for middle school and high school science teachers. Some of these workshops combined field trips to volcanic, tectonic, fluvial and impact structures in the western United States with classroom instruction on how the field sites relate to NASA's planetary geology exploration program.
Life on Mars? is a collection of inquiry-based activities that explore the properties by which we can identify living things, the requirements for supporting life as we know it, and the possibility that Mars may have supported living organisms at some time in its history. The activities are designed for use by upper elementary and middle school students in informal education settings such as libraries, but also include links to national science education standards to facilitate classroom use.
Mars Inside and Out is a collection of inquiry-based activities that explore the various processes that have shaped the surface of Mars, including volcanism, impact cratering, and flowing water. The activities are designed for use by upper elementary and middle school students in informal education settings such as libraries, but also include links to national science education standards to facilitate classroom use.
This set of 3 lunar geology posters describes the Moon's geologic history, the use of spectroscopy to identify rock compositions from orbit, and NASA's on-going lunar exploration plans. Intended for use in 6th to 9th grade classrooms, each poster includes additional information and activities on the back side.
Some Interesting Websites
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- LPI's Lunar Science and
Exploration website is a great starting point for locating information
about the Moon.
- New Horizons has obtained detailed images
of Pluto and its moon Charon.
- The Mars rovers Curiosity
Opportunity are continuing their travels across the martian surface.
- The Cassini
spacecraft is continuing its study of Titan, Enceladus, and the Saturn
- The Dawn
spacecraft has completed its study of the asteroid Vesta and is currently exploring Ceres.
- The Hubble Space Telescope
continues to produce amazing images.
- Check out NASA's
Astronomy Picture of the Day and Planetary
Science Research Discoveries.
- NASA Human Spaceflight: Find
out what is happening on the International Space Station.
- Take a tour of the Solar
- You can even view the planets in
- What's up in tonight's sky? Find out with StarDate's sky
- I also maintain a longer
listing of sites related to Planetary Science, Astronomy, Space Flight,
and Science Education as part of the Lunar and Planetary Institute's