UA is Top University Contributing to Global Planetary Exploration Research
Thomson Reuters Corporation data shows that only NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the world's top players in spacecraft design, construction, launch and science operations are ahead of UA's planetary sciences with regard to impact in the scientific literature.

By Daniel Stolte, University Communications
May 27, 2011

The University of Arizona is the top ranked research university for planetary exploration with regard to citations in the scientific literature, according to new data. 

UA planetary research articles were quoted more than 10,000 times over the last 10 years, according to, a comprehensive, open Web resource for science metrics.

The analysis was conducted using a Thomson Reuters Corporation database, which includes citations from articles produced by researchers in various countries around the world. 

During the survey period, which spanned Jan. 1, 2001 to March 18, 2011, the UA had 579 publications in planetary sciences. Only NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or JPL, are cited more often than UA in planetary exploration scientific publications. 

Placing third behind NASA and JPL means UA closely follows what are the world's largest players in spacecraft design, construction, launch and science operations, according to the Thomson Reuters website.

"The prominence of the UA in the planetary sciences is a tribute to the extraordinary talents of the faculty, support staff and student body in the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory," said Michael Drake, head of the UA's department of planetary sciences and director of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, or LPL.

"These dry statistics mask an even more fundamental point. Only NASA as a whole, an organization with a budget of about $18 billion, and JPL with a budget of about $1.5 billion, outperform the UA," Drake said. 

"When one realizes that the budget of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is only $2.6 million from the state of Arizona, these comparisons become even more stark," Drake added.  

Currently, the UA's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is actively involved in five spacecraft missions: Cassini; the Phoenix Mars Lander; the HiRISE camera orbiting Mars; the MESSENGER mission to Mercury and OSIRIS-REx, the first U.S. sample return mission to an asteroid, which was just selected by NASA.

Orbiting Saturn since 2004, NASA's Cassini Spacecraft has not only deployed a probe, Huygens, onto the surface of Saturn moon Titan, but also studied the Saturn system in great detail, capturing stunning images of the planet, its rings and its moons. Cassini has since detected the first flash of sunlight reflected off a lake on Titan, confirming the presence of liquid on the part of the moon dotted with many large, lake-shaped basins.

The Phoenix Mars Lander confirmed the presence of frozen water on the Martian surface. Meanwhile, HiRISE continues to orbit the Red Planet, delivering stunning photographs of its surface features in great detail.

And launched in April of 2009, the MESSENGER spacecraft recently entered into orbit around Mercury, the innermost planet of our solar system, to commence a year-long campaign of mapping and spectral analysis of the planet's surface and exosphere. 

The latest addition to the UA's portfolio of space missions is OSRIS-REx, selected for funding by NASA on May 25.

The OSIRIS-REx spacecraft will orbit and explore asteroid 1999 RQ36 for more than one year before closing in and collecting a sample of pristine organic material that may have seeded Earth with the building blocks that led to life.

"The UA has been involved in nearly all of the planetary exploration missions over the past 40 years, often including leadership of experiments or entire missions, such as Phoenix and OSIRIS-REx," said Alfred McEwen, professor of planetary geology at LPL and principal investigator of HiRISE.

The UA's leading role in planetary research leads to publications that receive many citations far across the scientific community, including papers from scientists and students who may not themselves be associated with missions.

"A great number of publications that result from our efforts may not even have UA co-authors," McEwen added.  "There are many publications based on HiRISE data, all of which is released to anyone who wants to use it."  

Other implications of this work are that the UA consistently involves students in planetary science research activities and helps create high paying jobs in Tucson and Arizona, Drake said. 

"The citizens of Arizona have much to be proud of for the modest investment of their tax dollars," Drake said, "and we are honored to have the opportunity to be the best we can for Tucson and the state."

Extra info

Thomson Reuters Corporation is a provider of information for the world's businesses and professionals. Thomson Reuters reports that the analysis was created using its Web of Science. The resulting database contained 9,400 papers in a 10-year survey and 2,416 papers in a 2-year survey. All told, those figures represent 17,195 authors, 97 nations, 1,574 journals and 3,761 institutions.