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David Mitchell

Research PhysicistUniversity of CaliforniaSpace Sciences Laboratory
Work Phone: 510-643-1561
Photo of David Mitchell


I arrived at Space Sciences Laboratory as an astronomy graduate student in the fall of 1985 to work on the Giotto mission to Comet Halley, which was launched just a few months earlier. I analyzed data from the Positive Ion Cluster Composition Analyzer (PICCA), a simple ion mass spectrometer that detected complex (up to ~200 amu) organic molecules, primarily composed of C, H, O, and N, in the coma. About two years later, I began ground-based radio interferometer observations of Mars and Mercury using the Hat Creek Radio Observatory (0.3 cm wavelength) and the Very Large Array (1.3 to 20 cm wavelengths). To interpret these images, I developed thermal and radiative transfer models of Mercury’s regolith. Mercury became the subject of my dissertation (“Microwave Imaging of Mercury’s Thermal Emission: Observations and Models”), which was completed in 1993. After receiving my PhD, I went to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a National Research Council fellowship to work on asteroid delay-doppler radar imaging using the steerable 70-m Goldstone antenna and the fixed 305-m dish at Arecibo. I studied the main-belt objects Ceres, Pallas, and Vesta, as well as the near-Earth asteroids Eros, Iris, Metis, Victoria, Kleopatra, and Zelinda. (Fun fact: As an undergraduate at the University of Virginia, a fellow student and I made optical images of Metis to investigate whether it might be a binary.) I returned to SSL in the fall of 1996 to work on Mars Global Surveyor, which was launched in November of that year, and Lunar Prospector, which was launched in January 1988. Since that time I have been involved in the study of crustal magnetic fields on Mars and the Moon, the ionosphere of Mars, and the plasma environments and solar wind interaction with both bodies. More recently, I have been involved with the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission, which is designed to study the present-day atmospheric loss and extrapolate the loss over time to better understand atmospheric evolution and climate change.