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Rocky planets and the Moon

Studies of comparative planetology try to explain the great variety of physical properties and environments exhibited by the inner planets of the Solar System. The common denominator for all of the studies of this area is the understanding of the physical structureand evolutionary history of the terrestrial-type planets. To this end, many projects in this area make use of data from current space missions (MARS-EXPRESS, VENUS-EXPRESS), or are preparing to analyse information that will be provided by missions in the near future (BepiColombo, ExoMars).

Mercury. Despite being a very interesting planet from many points of view, Mercury is one of the least studied planets of the Solar System. For this reason, ESA has developed the cornerstone mission BepiColombo, to be launched in 2013. The Italian (and therefore INAF) participation is impressive. There are 4 instruments with Italian PIs: SIMBIOSYS (high resolution stereo camera and spectrometer), ISA (accelerometer), MORE (radioscience) and SERENA (experiments for the study of the exosphere). An important and qualified collaboration between various researchers has been carrying out, for some time, cutting-edge studies in the field of detection of the thin exospheres of Mercury and the Moon, via remote observations.

Venus. The study of Venus by remote observations is made notoriously difficult by the dense atmosphere that surrounds the planet, but ESA's Venus Express mission is currently providing a new and unique opportunity for investigation, and is resulting in great progress in the understanding of this planet, also due to the Virtis instrument, that has anINAF PI.

Mars. INAF's participation in the study of Mars comes about through the use of data products of two on-going space missions, ESA's Mars Express orbiter and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and future development is planned by taking advantage of another mission in the study phase, ESA's ExoMars, that will consist of a lander and a rover. The Italian participation in Mars Express is significant: two of the seven instruments on-board were developed in Italy, and Italy is represented in the scientific teams of the remaining instruments. The Mars Express mission is providing data of exceptional quality, and has been extended to 2011, with a probable final extension until 2017. For the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, the Italian participation consists of the construction of the sub-surface radar SHARAD, an instrument fundamental for the investigation of sub-surface water. This mission reached the end of its nominal duration in December 2008, but was extended for another martian year (about two terrestrial years).

Moon. As far as the Moon is concerned, apart from the studies designed to characterise its tenuous exosphere via remote observations, data from the SMART mission are now being studied. The national community also replied to an Italian call for Small Missions by ASI (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana) made in 2007, with a lunar mission study MAGIA (MissioneAltimetrica Gravimetrica geochimica Italiana lunAre), demonstrating the interest in the Italian community for studies of our satellite.

Terrestrial geodesy. The IRA group in Bologna is continuing geodesy activities via VLBI observations, as part of important international collaborations. Alongside this, are studies of the deformation of the crust and geodynamics of Antarctica using GPS measurements. The OAT group is involved in a programme of studies of transientatmospheric phenomena and surface cratering via observations from space and in situ.