Seismology on small planetary bodies by orbital laser Doppler vibrometry

Paul Sava, Erik Asphaug

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


The interior structure of small planetary bodies holds clues about their origin and evolution, from which we can derive an understanding of the solar system's formation. High resolution geophysical imaging of small bodies can use either radar waves for dielectric properties, or seismic waves for elastic properties. Radar investigation is efficiently done from orbiters, but conventional seismic investigation requires landed instruments (seismometers, geophones) mechanically coupled to the body. We propose an alternative form of seismic investigation for small bodies using Laser Doppler Vibrometers (LDV). LDVs can sense motion at a distance, without contact with the ground, using coherent laser beams reflected off the body. LDVs can be mounted on orbiters, transforming seismology into a remote sensing investigation, comparable to making visual, thermal or electromagnetic observations from space. Orbital seismometers are advantageous over landed seismometers because they do not require expensive and complex landing operations, do not require mechanical coupling with the ground, are mobile and can provide global coverage, operate from stable and robust orbital platforms that can be made absolutely quiet from vibrations, and do not have sensitive mechanical components. Dense global coverage enables wavefield imaging of small body interiors using high resolution terrestrial exploration seismology techniques. Migration identifies and positions the interior reflectors by time reversal. Tomography constrains the elastic properties in-between the interfaces. These techniques benefit from dense data acquired by LDV systems at the surface, and from knowledge of small body shapes. In both cases, a complex body shape, such as a comet or asteroid, contributes to increased wave-path diversity in its interior, and leads to high (sub-wavelength) imaging resolution.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)527-544
Number of pages18
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 15 2019


  • Asteroid
  • Comet
  • Imaging
  • Laser
  • Seismic
  • Tomography
  • Vibrometer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Geophysics
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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