Department of Astronomy Center for Radiophysics & Space Research

James F. Bell

Adjunct Professor of Astronomy
James F. Bell
Specialty Areas

Planetary Sciences

Research Projects

MER: Mars Exploration Rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, Mars Surface Properties Derived from THEMIS VIS Analysis, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Marci/CTX Science Investigator Team, A Global Search for Alteration Minerals on Mars, Mineralogy and Weathering History of the Martian Surface, Mars at Closest Approach, Mars Exploration Rover Pancam Investigation, Mars Science Laboratory 2009 Rover Mastcam, Microscope, and Descent Imager Team


Jim Bell is Professor at the Cornell University Astronomy Department's Center for Radiophysics and Space Research; he also has a Graduate Field appointment in Geology. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii in 1992, performing research on Mars surface mineralogy and climate variations using infrared and optical telescopes at Mauna Kea Observatory. He was a National Research Council postdoctoral research fellow at NASA's Ames Research Center prior to coming to Cornell. His studies primarily focus on the physical, compositional and mineralogic properties of planetary surfaces, asteroids, and comets using data obtained from telescopes and spacecraft missions. He has been a member of the Science Teams of the NASA Mars Pathfinder, Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR), Comet Nucleus Tour (CONTOUR), Mars Odyssey Orbiter, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Mars Science Laboratory rover missions, and is the Payload Element Lead for the Pancam color cameras on the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. He has also been a Principal Investigator (PI) in the NASA Mars Data Analysis and Planetary Geology and Geophysics Programs. In addition, he is carrying out laboratory and field studies of the spectroscopic properties of rocks and soils that are analogs to planetary surface materials.

Bell has published many of his research results in major astronomy journals, and in 2008 edited The Martian Surface: Composition, Mineralogy and Physical Properties (Cambridge U. Press). He is an Editor for Icarus, and a reviewer for journals like Science, Nature, and J. Geophys. Res. In addition to frequent contributions to popular astronomy magazines and radio shows, he has written or edited four popular-level books: Asteroid Rendezvous, about the NEAR mission; Postcards from Mars and Mars 3-D, a photography book about the Mars rover missions, and Moon 3-D, a photography book about lunar exploration.

In recent years, Jim has taught Astronomy 3310 (Planetary Image Processing), Astronomy 2202 (Our Solar System), Astronomy 4410 (Experimental Astronomy), and Astronomy 6577/EAS 5770 (Planetary Surface Processes). As a House Fellow in Becker House, he has also taught, with Prof. Cindy Hazan, the Dean of Becker House, a service learning class (Human Development 402).

Fields of Expertise
  • Surface Composition and Geology of Terrestrial Planets and Asteroids
  • Telescopic Observations and Instrumentation (Visible through Mid-IR)
  • Reflectance & Emittance Spectroscopy (Telescopic, Laboratory, Spacecraft)
  • Image Processing and Data
  • Reduction/Calibration/Analysis (Telescopic, Spacecraft)
Selected Publications

Full list and C.V. available here.

  • J.F. Bell III, The search for habitable worlds: Planetary exploration in the 21st century, Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, 141 (3), pp. 8-22, Summer 2012.
  • J.F. Bell III et al., Calibration and Performance of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Context Camera (CTX), Mars, in press, 2012.
  • J.F. Bell III, "Water on Planets," in Highlights of Astronomy (Proc. IAU Gen. Assembly XXVII), 15, 29-44, doi:10.1017/S1743921310008161, 2010.
  • J.F. Bell III et al., Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Mars Color Imager (MARCI): Instrument description, calibration, and performance, J. Geophys. Res., 114, E08S92, doi:10.1029/2008JE003315, 2009.
  • J.F. Bell III et al., Surface albedo observations at Gusev Crater and Meridiani Planum, Mars, J. Geophys. Res., 113, E06S18, doi:10.1029/2007JE002976, 2008.
  • J.F. Bell III and T. Ansty, High spectral resolution UV to near-IR observations of Mars during 1999, 2001, and 2003 using HST/STIS, Icarus, 191, 581-602, doi:10.1016/j.icarus.2007.05.019, 2007.
  • J .F. Bell III et al., Chromaticity of the Martian sky as observed by the Mars Exploration Rover Pancam instruments, J. Geophys. Res., 111, E12S05, 2006.