Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan


Michael Combi
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Michael R Combi

Freeman D. Miller Collegiate Research Professor

Phone: (734) 764-7226
Fax: (734) 615-9723


Ph.D., Physics, University of Toledo

M.S., Physics and Astronomy, University of Toledo

B.S., Physics, Manhattan College


Planetary Science and Cometary Physics

Specializations and Research Interests

  • Observation and modeling of the spatial and velocity distribution of neutral and ionized cometary gases and dust
  • Development of time-dependent multidimensional multispecies fully kinetic models for cometary and planetary satellite atmospheres using Direct Simulation Monte Carlo methods
  • Planetary satellite atmospheric structure, escape and interaction with planetary magnetospheres
  • Mars' exosphere and atmospheric escape
  • Cometary X-ray observations and study of the excitation mechanism

Honors, Awards and Accomplishments

  • Asteroid 17061 Mikecombi, named in honor of his contributions to the study of cometary atmospheres, 2005
  • Distinguished Research Scientist Award, U-M, 2003
  • Outstanding Research Scientist Award, U-M, College of Engineering, 1996-1997
  • Editor's Letter of Commendation, planetary science journal Icarus, 1991 and 1992
  • Co-Investigator, Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) team, European Space Agency's Rosetta mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
  • Co-Investigator, Rosetta Orbiter Spectrometer for Ion and Neutral Analysis (ROSINA) team, European Space Agency's Rosetta mission to comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko
  • Participating Scientist on the MAVEN Mars mission
  • Team Member, Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer instrument, NASA's Comet Rendezvous Asteroid Flyby Mission
  • Guest Observer, International Ultraviolet Explorer satellite
  • Guest Observer, Hubble Space Telescope (HST) involving ultraviolet spectroscopy and imaging of the 1996 bright comet Hyakutake
  • Guest Investigator, observing campaign of the Solar Wind Anisotropies (SWAN) instrument, Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) satellite (SWAN pictures)
  • First applied Monte Carlo models to study the complicated geometries of free-flow region of cometary atmospheres
  • Provided one of the early sets of cometary radical scale lengths for use in determining gas species production rates in comets
  • First quantitative observations and analysis of the spatial distribution of water and carbon monoxide ions in the heads and inner tails of comets
  • With a colleague, provided the complete self-consistent description tying together the underlying physics of the dynamics of the inner cometary coma outflow, dominated by water photochemistry, with the appearance and velocity distribution of the hydrogen coma of comets, and how these change with the size of the comet and its distance from the sun
  • Part of the group that was the first to simulate cometary X-ray production by charge exchange excitation
  • With colleagues, demonstrated conclusive evidence from ground-based images of comet Hyakutake that fragments of the nucleus traveling down the tail were providing an extended source of gases which collided with the main coma outflow

Professional Service

  • Sigma Xi
  • Past Director, Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU), funded by NSF, and providing real-world university research experience for undergraduate majors in mathematics, the physical sciences and engineering
  • Editor, Icarus, official journal, Division for Planetary Sciences, AAS
  • COMPLEX (Committee on Planetary and Lunar Exploration)
  • American Astronomical Society (Division for Planetary Sciences)
  • American Geophysical Society
  • International Astronomical Union
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science
  • European Geophysical Society
  • Member, numerous NASA panels including Planetary Systems Science Management Operations Working Group, CRAF Peer Review Panel, International Halley Watch/PDS Peer Review Panel, NASA Planetary Astronomy Peer Review Panel, Hubble Space Telescope Planetary Science Review Panel
Updated: 2017-03-30