Earth and Planetary Sciences

Earliest Ichthyosaur Munched on Shellfish

May 13, 2020

The ichthyosaurs were sleek, dolphin-like marine reptiles that roamed the oceans while dinosaurs ruled on land. But the earliest known member of the group was a short, seal-like animal that could likely pull itself onto land.

Now, scanning of that animal’s skull shows that it likely fed on hard-shelled animals such as shellfish and crabs. The appearance of similar teeth in other ichthyosaurs gives insight into how these animals were evolving in the wake of the mass extinction at the end of the Permian era, 250 million years ago.

New Leak Detector for Earth’s Core

April 10, 2020
Earth’s molten core may be leaking iron, according to researchers who analyzed how iron behaves inside our planet.

Explaining the Tiger Stripes of Enceladus

December 09, 2019
Saturn’s tiny, frozen moon Enceladus is a strange place. Just 300 miles across, the moon is thought to have an outer shell of ice covering a global ocean 20 miles deep, encasing a rocky core. Slashed across Enceladus’ south pole are four straight, parallel fissures or “tiger stripes” from which water erupts. These fissures aren’t quite like anything else in the solar system. 

Statistics and Space: Three New AAAS Fellows

November 26, 2019
Three faculty members of the College of Letters and Science are among the 10 UC Davis faculty elected to the 2019 class of fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. The new fellows are Jiming Jiang, professor of statistics; Thomas C.M. Lee, professor of statistics; and Sarah Stewart, professor of earth and planetary sciences.

Mutant Fern Spores Point to Mass Extinction Culprit

October 24, 2019
About 200 million years ago, much of the life on Earth was wiped out in the end-Triassic mass extinction. The catastrophe may have been caused by climate change related to massive volcanic eruptions.

Pockets of Primordial Earth Still Remain

September 18, 2019
New research suggests specific giant rock regions in the mantle have existed for 4.5 billion years, since Earth’s beginning.

Understanding How Pressures in Planets Evolve

September 04, 2019

A new study from Caltech and the UC Davis College of Letters and Science shows that giant impacts can dramatically lower the internal pressure of planets, a finding that could significantly change the current model of planetary formation.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11

July 19, 2019
On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 touched down on the moon and Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the lunar surface. The moon rocks brought back to Earth launched a new era of research about the moon’s origin. Fifty years later, researchers at the UC Davis College of Letters and Science continue to discover new aspects of the moon’s formation that further our understanding of the solar system. Here are some highlights of their research.

Modeling Early Meteorite Impacts on the Moon

July 11, 2019
As our solar system was forming nearly four and a half billion years ago, a planet-sized object struck the early Earth, leading to the formation of the moon, possibly from a hot, spinning cloud of rock vapor called a synestia. But after the Earth and moon had condensed from the vapor, there was another phase of growth as meteorites crashed into both bodies.