Astronomy of the 21st Century Distinguished Speaker Series
S. Alan Stern, former Associate Administrator for Space Science, NASA
1800 Dow Chemistry Building, 930 N. University Ave.
Friday, February 6 at 7:30 p.m.
Science’s view of our planetary system was fundamentally restructured by the 1990s discovery of the Kuiper Belt beyond Neptune and the recent discoveries of numerous Pluto-sized bodies in the Kuiper Belt. No longer do we view the solar system’s architecture as inner terrestrial planets and outer gas giants, with misfit Pluto orbiting beyond. Instead, Pluto is now seen in context, being one of many dwarf planets orbiting in a third zone, equally fundamental zone of our planetary system that lies beyond Neptune. I will describe this revolutionary transformation in astronomy’s worldview of our home solar system, as well as its implications for understanding both the taxonomy of solar systems around other stars and also for planet classification.
Dr. Alan Stern served as NASA’s Associate Administrator for Space Science in 2007-8, directing a $4.4B organization with 93 separate flight missions. During his NASA tenure, a record 10 major new flight projects were started and deep reforms of NASA’s scientific research and the education and public outreach programs were put in place.
In 2006 -7, Dr. Stern served as Executive Director of the Southwest Research Institute's (SwRI’s) Space Science and Engineering Division, having been promoted to that position from other influential roles at SwRI. He grew the Institute’s planetary group from three people to one having a total project value exceeding $250M. Dr. Stern has also held positions at the University of Colorado in the Center for Space and Geoscience Policy, the office of the Vice President for Research, and the Center for Astrophysics and Space Astronomy. Before receiving his doctorate from the University of Colorado in 1989, Dr. Stern completed twin master's degrees in aerospace engineering and atmospheric sciences, and then spent seven years as an aerospace systems engineer, concentrating on spacecraft and payload systems at the NASA Johnson Space Center and other institutions. His two undergraduate degrees are in physics and astronomy from the University of Texas.
Dr. Stern's research has focused on studies of our solar system's Kuiper belt and Oort cloud, comets, the satellites of the outer planets, Pluto, and the search for solar systems around other stars. He has also worked on spacecraft rendezvous theory, terrestrial polar mesospheric clouds, galactic astrophysics, and studies of tenuous satellite atmospheres, including the atmosphere of the moon. He has been principal investigator for nine space missions and has led the development of eight scientific instruments for planetary and near-space research missions. Dr. Stern is a fellow of the AAAS, and a recipient of the Von Braun Aerospace Achievement Award of the National Space Society. He was named to the Time 100’s 2007 list of most influential people.Presented by the Department of Astronomy, the Exhibit Museum of Natural History, and the Student Astronomical Society, and sponsored by the Michigan Center for Theoretical Physics, the University Activities Center, and the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.