Planetary Astronomy Laboratory

Planetary Astronomy Laboratory

Part of the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences as well as astronomy at MIT, the Planetary Astronomy Laboratory (PAL) studies the solar system using a variety of techniques and telescopes, and in recent years has concentrated on small bodies in the outer solar system (e.g. Pluto, Triton, and Kuiper Belt objects). PAL specializes in observing these bodies when they pass in front of stars (stellar occultations) to learn about their sizes, shapes, and atmospheres, and collaborates with other institutions to survey the sky for Kuiper Belt to study the dynamics of the Kuiper Belt, the colors of the objects, and binary objects. The Laboratory also operates the Wallace Astrophysical Observatory in Westford, Mass. and utilizes telescopes all over the world, including the two 6.5-m Magellan telescopes at Las Campanas Observatory in Chile and the IRTF on Mauna Kea. PAL has several active instrumentation projects, including MagIC, a CCD camera currently mounted on one of the Magellan telescopes, a camera for Wallace Astrophysical Observatory (WAOCam), and POETS, a portable, high-speed occultation camera system.