Tag Archives: Planetary Science

Women of the UofA Lunar Planetary Lab

Commencement time at my alma mater, the University of Arizona (UofA), always brings to mind my wonderful tenure in Tucson. It also reminds me that there are not enough women in astronomy and planetary science; all of my professors in these subjects were men.

Today I would like to highlight the women faculty members of the Lunar Planetary Lab at the UofA. You can click on each name to be directed to their web site for more information about their research at the UofA.

Caitlin Griffith – Professor, Planetary atmospheres. I had the pleasure of hearing her at one of several talks given by the department on current research about Titan. Something you may not know is that she was in Thailand during the 2004 Indian earthquake.

Renu Malhotra – Professor, Solar system dynamics.

Ilaria Pascucci – Assistant Professor, Planetary formation and evolution.

Tamara Rogers – Professor, Planetary atmospheres.

Elizabeth Roemer – Professor Emerita, Comets, minor planets; astrometry.

Marcia Neugebauer – Research Scientist (Adjunct). Her website at the UofA is limited, so check out the UANews article Physicist Honored for Discoveries About the Sun and Wikipedia here.

Elisabetta Pierazzo – Lecturer (Adjunct). Her website at the UofA is limited, so please check out her page at the Planetary Science Institute.

Elizabeth P. Turtle – Assistant Research Scientist (Adjunct). Again, she has a limited website at the UofA, so find out more about her here. I also had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Turtle speak on several occasions, including during my “Mars” class, at the local astronomy club, and other talks at the UofA. She is definitely one of my favorite women astronomers.

And, because I just can’t help myself, I noticed that out of the 52 individuals listed on the faculty index at the Lunar Planetary Lab, there are eight women, a mere 15.38% of the total. Is there a problem there? I don’t know. What I do know is that in the majority of the classes I attended, the ratio of women/men students seemed to be fairly even.

While writing this blog, I also searched the web for additional information on these women. The lack of biographical information is, to say the least, discouraging. Why? Because they are doing tremendous work in an exciting field and they are role models, yet even today their stories are not readily available.

It seems to me that this could be a core issue with the problems surrounding girls and STEM. Any thoughts?

I Am Woman, See Me Soar!

Harvard "Computers", image courtesy Harvard University.

Today begins National Women’s History Month in the United States, as declared by presidential proclamation. This month we recognize and honor the accomplishments of women throughout the ages which will, in turn, empower our daughters with endless possibilities for their future.

In 1970, Helen Reddy released the song I Am Woman, Hear Me Roar, a thunderous statement on the women’s liberation movement. It was a time when women were burning their bras, freely expressing their sexuality, and moving out of the kitchen into the workplace. After 40 years, Reddy’s lyrics still rings true, we still have “a long, long way to go.”

As I am writing this blog, the White House also released Women In America: Indicators of Social And Economic Well Being, the first such report since 1963. Women have made great strides and today many women hold powerful positions in careers once solely the domain of men. There is still, however, much work to be done and the space sciences are no exception.

The one question from young girls I’ve received over the years that has caused me the most dismay is, “Who was the first woman on the Moon?” It always makes me sad to answer, “No woman has ever been there.” I still have hope that, within my lifetime, there will be a different reply: that I will be able to answer with the name of the first woman to have taken that step.

Unfortunately, women and girls still lag behind men in STEM subjects and careers, for a variety of reasons which will not be discussed today. What I will say is that I have long believed in the need for more role models for girls, especially in the sciences. It’s why I started WomanAstronomer.com.

So, in celebration of Women’s History Month, I will be blogging and tweeting about the amazing women in space, planetary science, and astronomy. I invite you to join me in celebrating the accomplishments of these wonderful women, to spread the word of their incredible work. (If you know of someone I should include, please let me know.)

First up is Lori B. Garver, Deputy Administrator of NASA. You can check out her biography here, which also has links to follow her on Facebook and Twitter. I think she is a truly inspirational woman and a role model for anyone, especially girls, interested in space.

With the recent surge of activity in the commercial space industry, the future holds even more opportunities for women in the space sciences, the chance to work on spacecraft, to design systems for humans in space, to find planets orbiting distant stars, “to go where no one has gone before.” My generation was “I am woman, hear me roar.” Your generation can be…I am woman, see me SOAR!

Clear skies!
Debra

Exoplanet Pleasure

Kepler 11 exoplanetary system.Image courtesy of NASA/Kepler.

 When I began my studies at the University of Arizona, I was under the impression that astronomy was the study of everything that the night sky had to offer. Though that is mostly true, it did not take me long to discover that planetary science was its own discipline and quickly became my favorite area of study. So, needless to say, all things exoplanets are especially interesting to me.

Today NASA announced the discovery of over 1,200 new potential exoplanet candidates. (Note: These are candidates and have yet to be confirmed.) This discovery is so incredible because of the number of potential exoplanets discovered by one telescope in such a short period of time in such a small field of view. The approximately 500 exoplanets discovered prior to Kepler took a span of nearly 20 years to find. Kepler found its astounding number of exoplanet candidates in less than two years.

Kepler telescope field of view. Courtesy NASA/TheSky.

Kepler was launched in March 2009 and is the 10th mission of NASA’s Discovery Missions. Kepler saw “first light” a month later when its dust cover was blown off with its optics pointed towards the constellations of Cygnus and Lyra. Its three-and-a-half-year mission objective is “to explore the structure and diversity of planetary systems.” I certainly hope this is one mission that will be extended.

Artist rendition of Kepler 10b. Image courtesy of NASA.

An especially exciting element of the Kepler mission is that the data, released ahead of schedule, is available to citizen astronomers at PlanetHunters.org where anyone with a little time and patience can assist Kepler astronomers in confirming the potential candidates as true exoplanets. (You do not need to be an astronomer, or own a telescope, to participate.) Imagine how exhilarating it will feel when your “favorite” exoplanet is officially added to the Planetary Society’s Catalogue of Exoplanets.

In addition to watching the NASA news conference today, I read a number of articles in the media from links on Twitter (thank you to all my astro-tweeps), along with a little extra research of my own. Below you’ll find a list of those for your exoplanet pleasure.

NASA Kepler Mission Page from NASA.gov

Kepler Home Page from Ames Research Center

Kepler’s “First Light” Images from UniverseToday.com

Astronomy: Exoplanets on the cheap from Nature.com

NASA Finds Earth-size Planet Candidates in Habitable Zone, Six Planet System the official NASA press release with PowerPoint slides

Motherlode of potential planets found: more than 1200 alien worlds! from Discover.com/Bad Astronomy

Extrasolar planet from Wikipedia.com, a lot of what you need to know about exoplanets

Wide Angle: The Age of the Exoplanet from Discovery.com

Kepler announcement today: More than a thousand exoplanets including one 6-planet system from the Planetary Society Blog

NASA spots scores of potentially livable worlds from MSNBC.com

Kepler-11 NEW EXOPLANETARY SYSTEM DISCOVERED from YouTube.com, an artist’s video rendition for the new system

Interview with Dr. Debra Fischer, Planet-Hunter from WomanAstronomer.com, my interview with favorite planet hunter of them all

Clear skies & happy exoplanet hunting!
Debra L. Davis