Tag Archive for planetary

Gilmore Receives Bromery Award from the Geological Society of America

Marty Gilmore

Marty Gilmore

For her exemplary contributions to research in the geological sciences and for being an instrumental mentor to young people of color, Professor Marty Gilmore received the 2020 Randolph W. “Bill” and Cecile T. Bromery Award from the Geological Society of America.

Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, and co-coordinator of Wesleyan’s Planetary Sciences program, was nominated for the award by Jim Head, the Louis and Elizabeth Scherck Distinguished Professor of Geological Sciences at Brown University.

“Few individuals have done more for expanding diversity in the geosciences than Dr. Gilmore,” Head said. She “leads the way in geosciences by example: passionate interest in fundamental and cutting-edge science, dedication to teaching and service to the profession and community, and tireless mentoring and personal advocacy for young scientists. She is a shining beacon of light for young minorities and women contemplating a career in the geosciences, illuminating a clear inspirational destination of success based on her research and service accomplishments.”

Gilmore is a fellow of the Geological Society of America, has served on dozens of NASA and National Academy of Sciences-NRC Committees, has mentored more than 20 master’s degree recipients, many of whom were people of color, has served as chair of the Wesleyan’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and the Venus Exploration Analysis Group, VEXAG, and has a publication record of fundamental research contributions in planetary geoscience, particularly on the geological evolution of the Earth, Venus, and Mars.

“Being elected a GSA Fellow a few years ago was one of my proudest moments, and I am so appreciative of the work that GSA has done to advance the profession and its initiatives to seriously address the constant problem of access to the field by women and people with brown skin,” Gilmore said. “There is certainly a long way to go and I hope that we are successful in our work to insist that the geosciences are an open and obvious field for everyone who wants to pursue it. To any students or younger people of color in the field, know that there is nothing in you that prevents you from being at the top of this field. Not just a member, not a cog, but a leader—the best.”

Gilmore will receive the award virtually during the GSA’s national meeting on Oct. 27.

Gilmore Featured in Venus Documentary

Martha-Gilmore

Marty Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology and professor of earth and environmental sciences, is featured in a suite of films exploring the past and possible future of the planet Venus, often called Earth’s “sister” or “twin” planet.

Martha Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology and professor of earth and environmental sciences, is prominently featured in a recently released suite of five documentary films about the history, science, exploration, and possible settlement of the planet Venus.

In the films, Gilmore, who is co-coordinator of planetary science at Wesleyan, along with other experts in a range of fields, help to illuminate and elucidate the fascinating history and possible future of the second planet from the sun, commonly known as Earth’s “sister planet.” The suite of films was produced by filmmaker and space exploration advocate Dave Brody P ’24. The main feature, “Venus: Death of a Planet,” the special feature, “Cloud Cities of Venus,” and the three short films of the “Exploring Venus Series,” can be viewed online through early September, and on the MagellanTV (broadly available through various streaming platforms).

In February, two spacecraft mission concepts co-developed by Gilmore to study Venus received second-round backing from NASA’s Discovery Program. Both concepts, which were awarded $3 million each, would assess whether Venus was ever a habitable planet by examining its landscape, rocks, and atmosphere.

Redfield Receives NASA Grant to Study the Properties of Outer Space

Seth Redfield

Associate Professor of Astronomy Seth Redfield will use the Hubble Space Telescope to measure composition, density, temperature, motion, and the spectroscopic signatures of gas and dust.

If a spacecraft were to quickly travel outside the solar system—potentially en route to a nearby exoplanetary system—it would need to pass through an atmosphere unfamiliar to scientists on Earth.

As a recipient of a $415,000 grant from NASA, Seth Redfield, chair and associate professor of astronomy, hopes to learn more about the mysterious makeup of this “outer space.”

“There are several very early designs for an interstellar probe, but first, we need to understand the properties of the space in between the stars if you are traveling through it, especially at high speed,” Redfield said. “Given the vastness of space, even in our nearest cosmic neighborhood of the closest stars, very high speeds are needed. The designs for an interstellar probe involve speeds that range from 11,000 miles per hour to 6 million miles per hour! These require the biggest rockets that NASA has ever built and new propulsion ideas that are still in very early design phases.”

$6M in NASA Funding Awarded to Projects with Contributions by Gilmore

NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies for new missions

NASA has selected four Discovery Program investigations to develop concept studies for new spacecraft missions. Wesleyan Professor Martha Gilmore is a science team member on two of these missions. Pictured is an artist concept of the solar system courtesy of NASA.

Marty Gilmore

Martha Gilmore

Not one, but two spacecraft mission concepts co-developed by Martha Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology and professor of earth and environmental sciences, received second-round backing from NASA’s Discovery Program on Feb. 13. Both concepts—which were awarded $3 million each—would assess whether Venus was ever a habitable planet by examining its landscape, rocks, and atmosphere.

NASA’s Discovery Program, now in its ninth year, funds investigations to develop concept studies for new missions. Although they’re not official missions yet, the selections focus on compelling targets and science that are not covered by NASA’s active missions or recent selections. Gilmore’s projects were among four selected.

“Venus is the key to understanding how Earth-size planets evolve. Like Earth, we predict Venus had an ocean that may have lasted for billions of years. Like Earth, Venus may be volcanically and tectonically active today. These missions will target the modern and ancient history of Venus, as recorded in the rocks and the atmosphere. The oldest rocks on Venus are my speciality, and I would very much like to know what environment they record.” Gilmore said.

Gilmore Works on Planetarium Show at American Museum of Natural History

worlds beyond earthResearch conducted by a Wesleyan professor is part of a new space show at the American Museum of Natural History.

Martha Gilmore

Martha GIlmore.

Martha Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology and professor of Earth and environmental sciences, worked over the past year developing content for the new Hayden Planetarium Space Show Worlds Beyond Earth. The show opened on Jan. 21 as part of the museum’s 150th anniversary celebration.

“It’s amazing,” Gilmore says. “The images that you see are all realistic. We even contacted some of the engineers for the Magellan spacecraft in order to understand exactly how the spacecraft imaged Venus in the early 1990s.”

Featuring brilliant visualizations of distant worlds, groundbreaking space missions, and scenes depicting the evolution of our solar system, Worlds Beyond Earth “takes viewers on an exhilarating journey that reveals the surprisingly dynamic nature of the worlds that orbit our Sun and the unique conditions that make life on our planet possible,” according to the American Museum of Natural History’s website.

Over the year, Gilmore worked with fellow Earth and planetary scientists, science visualization experts, writers, and artists to turn data into a visual masterpiece displayed on the world’s most advanced planetarium projection system. Gilmore’s specific task was to share the story of Venus having once been a habitable planet.

“The idea that Mars, Venus, and Earth were all habitable four billion years ago, but only Earth remains—that’s what I presented to them, and it’s really nice to see that story in the most famous planetarium show in the country!”

Gilmore

Wesleyan alumnus Mark Popinchalk ’13 and Martha Gilmore mingled at the Worlds Beyond Earth preview event.

On Jan. 15, Gilmore was invited to the museum for a sneak preview of the show. Other Wesleyan affiliates in attendance included James Greenwood, assistant professor of Earth and environmental sciences; Anne Canty ’84, senior vice president for communications at the museum; and Gilmore’s former student and museum science educator Mark Popinchalk ’13.

Gilmore also is one of three scientists featured in a short movie that will be played in the waiting area of the planetarium.

The show “is just gorgeous,” Gilmore said. “What I appreciate now is that the data you see in the show are correct—the spacecraft orbits, the positions of the planets and stars, the magnetic field data, etc. It’s an incredible amount of work to make that happen. If you see it and wait for the credits to roll on the dome, you’ll see my name and Wesleyan!”

Gilmore’s Paper on Venus’s Volcanoes Published in Science Advances

Martha Gilmore

Martha GIlmore

Martha “Marty” Gilmore, George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, is the author of a research article titled “Present-day volcanism on Venus as evidenced from weathering rates of olivine,” published in Science Advances Vol. 6 on Jan. 3, 2020.

According to the paper’s abstract:

At least some of Venus’ lava flows are thought to be <2.5 million years old based on visible to near-infrared (VNIR) emissivity measured by the Venus Express spacecraft. However, the exact ages of these flows are poorly constrained because the rate at which olivine alters at Venus surface conditions, and how that alteration affects VNIR spectra, remains unknown. We obtained VNIR reflectance spectra of natural olivine that was altered and oxidized in the laboratory. We show that olivine becomes coated, within days, with alteration products, primarily hematite (Fe2O3). With increasing alteration, the VNIR 1000-nm absorption, characteristic of olivine, also weakens within days. Our results indicate that lava flows lacking VNIR features due to hematite are no more than several years old. Therefore, Venus is volcanically active now.

The research was mentioned in Science Alert and Universe Today.

Students, Faculty, Community Observe Rare Complete Transit of Mercury

Visitors use telescopes outside observatory

Individuals gathered outside Van Vleck Observatory to view the transit of Mercury on Nov. 11.

For only the seventh time since Wesleyan’s founding, the planet Mercury passed directly in front of the sun, from the perspective of Earth—and Wesleyan served as a gathering place from which to learn about and observe the event. Faculty and students from Wesleyan’s astronomy department, as well as others from the University and the greater Middletown community, gathered outside the Van Vleck Observatory on Nov. 11 to witness the transit through three telescopes.

The mild weather and partly cloudy conditions—particularly at the beginning and end of the transit (which lasted from 7:35 a.m. to 1:04 p.m.)—made for good viewings through the University’s general-purpose 8-inch telescope, as well as its hydrogen alpha solar telescope, which allows users to observe solar prominences. A second solar telescope, owned by John Sillasen, MALS’07, a local amateur astronomer and member of the Astronomical Society of Greater Hartford, was also available to use as part of the event.

Gilberto Garcia ’20, an astronomy and physics major, was assisting with one of the solar telescopes. “Just seeing Mercury in general is a pretty rare occurrence, so I was pretty excited about it,” Garcia said. Viewed from a telescope, Mercury appeared as a small dot on the sun’s surface.

NASA Funds Study of Gilmore’s Venus Mission Concept

Martha Gilmore

Martha Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, believes we have a lot to learn from studying Venus—yet the United States has not sent a mission to the Earth-sized planet since the early 1990s. That’s why Gilmore has proposed a major flagship mission concept study to assess whether Venus was ever a habitable planet by looking at its rocks and atmosphere.

In October, NASA agreed to fund the planetary mission concept on Venus submitted by Gilmore, a planetary geologist, and colleagues at several other institutions, who come from varied disciplines. Gilmore, who is the principal investigator, said NASA received 54 proposals and selected 10 to feed into the next Planetary Decadal Survey. Theirs was the only proposal on Venus to receive funding.

In 2020, the National Academy of Science will convene a panel of scientists and engineers to determine the scientific priorities for Planetary Science over the period 2023–2032. This Planetary Decadal Survey is conducted every 10 years and is tasked with recommending a portfolio of missions to NASA. The mission concepts that were funded will be developed for consideration by the Decadal Survey. In the coming months, Gilmore will be meeting and communicating regularly with her science team and conducting mission design runs at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. Final reports are due to the Decadal Survey in June 2020, and will describe mission architecture, cost, and how the mission will address the scientific priorities of the Decadal Survey and NASA.

Gilmore’s expertise is on the surface morphology and composition of Venus, Mars, and Earth, and her PhD focused on Venus during the United States’ Magellan mission. She explained that all three planets are rocky, and there is evidence that they all had oceans early in solar system history. Scientists believe that Mars’s ocean dried up first—within about one billion years—and that Venus’s ocean may have lasted for two or three billion years.

“Thus, for most of solar system history, there were two Earth-sized planets with oceans,” said Gilmore. “Was Venus habitable like the Earth and if so, what changed?”

8 Students Present Research at Northeast Astronomy Consortium

astronomy

Several Wesleyan students and faculty attended the 2019 KNAC Undergraduate Research Symposium at Vassar College.

Eight Wesleyan undergraduates presented results of their summer research to the annual Undergraduate Research Symposium sponsored by the Keck Northeast Astronomy Consortium (KNAC) on Oct. 5.

This year’s symposium was held at Vassar College and attended by 125 astronomy students and faculty, primarily from the consortium colleges (Bryn Mawr, Colgate, Haverford, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Vassar, Wellesley, Wesleyan, and Williams).

Astronomy majors Mason Tea ’21 and Rachel Marino ’20 and sophomores Alex Henton ’22 and Ava Nederlander ’22 gave oral presentations of their projects conducted on campus this summer. In addition, astronomy majors Fallon Konow ’20, Hunter Vannier ’20, Gil Garcia ’20, and Terra Ganey ’21 gave poster presentations of their summer research. The presenters were joined by an equal number of first- and second-year students who went to hear the talks, participate in breakout sessions on various astronomical topics, and network with potential future colleagues.

Both Marino and Garcia are Wesleyan McNair Fellows.

KNAC was founded in 1990 to enhance research opportunities for astronomy students at smaller institutions in the northeast by sharing resources. Today it operates a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program funded by the National Science Foundation through a grant to Wesleyan.

View additional photos on this Astronomy Department’s Error Bar blog post.

Mason Tea presenting results on a gravitational lensing telescope.

Mason Tea ’21 presents his results on a gravitational lensing telescope.

Ava Nederlander presenting work on a brown dwarf in a debris disk.

Ava Nederlander ’22 presents her work on a brown dwarf in a debris disk.

Gil Garcia presented his work on black holes.

Gil Garcia ’20 presented his study on black holes.

Wesleyan’s Girls in Science Summer Camp Gets Young Scientists Excited about STEM 

GIS

Marty Gilmore, the George I. Seney Professor of Geology, professor of earth and environmental sciences, leads an experiment about meteors during the Girls in Science Summer Camp Aug. 8. (Photo by Kerisha Harris)

(Story by Kerisha Harris)

For the sixth year in a row, the weeklong Wesleyan Girls in Science Summer Camp welcomed dozens of middle school-aged girls for a week of learning, exploration, and STEM-centered fun.

From Aug. 5-9 inside Exley Science Center, the 32 campers in grades 4-6 spent the week learning about everything from how to extract DNA from a strawberry, to the parts of the brain, and even how to make (but don’t touch) an ice-cold comet. By Friday, the young scientists were excited to share all they had learned with their friends and families, and did so through a poster presentation and art display.

Girls in Science participants observe a "comet" they created during the camp.

Girls in Science participants observe a “comet” they created during the camp.

This partnership between Wesleyan and Middletown Public Schools gives girls the chance to explore and cultivate their interest in science by conducting fun experiments in real-life labs, discovering scientific concepts, vocabulary and equipment, and learning from female Wesleyan professors and students in the sciences.

This year marked the first time in the program’s history that the camp took place fully under the umbrella of the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships.  Additionally, the Jewett Center partnered with In-Reach, a program coordinated by Melisa Olgun ’20, to bring local high school girls in as program assistants. These young scientists-in-training provided guidance and support for the campers, while also getting to spend time in research labs at Wesleyan.

Study by Herbst, Greenwood Presents New Theory on How Meteorites Formed

A paper by John Monroe Van Vleck Professor of Astronomy William Herbst and Assistant Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences James Greenwood will be published in the September 2019 issue of Icarus, published by Elsevier. The paper is available online.

The paper, titled “Radiative Heating Model for Chondrule and Chondrite Formation,” presents a new theory of how chondrules and chondrites (the most common meteorites) formed. It suggests a new approach to thinking about these rocks that populate the meteorite collections on Earth. It includes both theory and experiments (completed in Greenwood’s lab in Exley Science Center).

These laboratory experiments demonstrate that porphyritic olivine chondrules, the most voluminous type of chondrule, can be made using heating and cooling curves predicted by the “flyby” model. View a schematic diagram here.

“The problem of how chondrules and chondrites formed has been around for decades—more than a century, really. We cannot yet claim to have solved the problem but we have provided a new idea about the solution that passes many tests,” Herbst explained.

The basic idea, Herbst said, involves heating of small fluffy “rocks” in space as they fly past molten lava eruptions on larger asteroids, during the first few million years of the solar system’s existence.

Herbst, Greenwood, and Postdoctoral Research Associate Keniche Abe, will present this research at meetings this summer in Europe and Japan.

Students, Faculty, Alumni Present Research at 50th Annual Planetary Science Conference

Jeremy Brossier presented a talk titled "Radiophysical Behaviors of Venus’ Plateaus and Volcanic Rises: Updated Assessment." He also presented a poster titled "Complex Radar Emissivity Variations at Some Large Venusian Volcanoes."

At left, earth and environmental sciences postdoctoral research associate Jeremy Brossier presented a poster titled “Complex Radar Emissivity Variations at Some Large Venusian Volcanoes” during the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Texas.

Several Wesleyan students, faculty, and alumni attended the 50th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) March 18-22 in The Woodlands, Texas. Members of the Wesleyan Planetary Sciences Group presented their research on a range of planetary bodies.

This annual conference brings together international specialists in petrology, geochemistry, geophysics, geology, and astronomy to present the latest results of research in planetary science.

Earth and environmental studies major Emmy Hughes ’20 presented a poster titled “Observations of Transverse Aeolian Ridges in Digital Terrain Models” during a session on “Planetary Aeolian Processes.”

Earth and environmental science graduate student Reid Perkins MA ’19 presented a talk titled “A Reassessment of Venus’ Tessera Crater Population and Implications for Tessera Deformation” and a poster titled “Volumes and Potential Origins of Crater Dark Floor Deposits on Venus.”