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MESSENGER Mission News
December 31, 2013
|Three members of the MESSENGER team have been honored this month for their accomplishments in planetary research and education and public outreach. The three honorees are Catherine Johnson from the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Planetary Science Institute, Ryan Dewey from the University of Colorado, and Brian Grigsby from Shasta High School in Redding, California.
Johnson was one of 62 scientists elected this year as a Fellow of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). The designation as Fellow, which recognizes researchers who have made exceptional contributions to Earth and space sciences, is bestowed on not more than 0.1 percent of AGU members in any given year. Johnson and other new Fellows were honored on December 11 at the AGU Fall Meeting in San Francisco.
Johnson, a MESSENGER Participating Scientist, was recognized for her studies of planetary magnetism on Earth, Mars, and Mercury, and for her work on the tectonics and gravitational fields of the inner planets. She is a Co-Investigator on NASA's InSight mission that will place a geophysical lander on Mars to study its deep interior, a Co-Investigator on the OSIRIS REx mission that will map asteroid Bennu, and a Professor of Planetary Geophysics in the Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at UBC in Vancouver.
Dewey, an undergraduate majoring in astronomy and physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and a Research Assistant in the university's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, received an Outstanding Student Paper Award from AGU. Those awards are given to promote, recognize, and reward undergraduate, master's, and doctoral students for innovative research in the geophysical sciences. Dewey was recognized for his paper given at the AGU Fall Meeting on "WSA-ENLIL Cone Extension: Improving Solar Wind Forcing Parameter Estimates at Mercury."
Dewey works with MESSENGER Co-Investigator Daniel Baker on the interactions between Mercury's magnetosphere and its space environment. His award-winning paper focused on improving representations for the local space environment at Mercury. "Mercury has a much weaker intrinsic magnetic field and is much closer to the Sun than Earth, so the space environment plays a larger role in plasma processes in Mercury's magnetosphere," Dewey said. "This space environment includes both the background solar wind and transient solar eruptions. Previous estimates of this environment have combined MESSENGER observations with the WSA-ENLIL model, but this approach included only the background solar wind."
The Cone extension to WSA-ENLIL simulates transient events, providing a more complete approach, he explained. "My paper compared the results for the WSA-ENLIL model with and without the Cone extension. We found that the Cone extension improves the accuracy of the space environment estimates. More specifically, the Cone extension allows us to better model specific transient events that arrive at Mercury, and it improves 'effectiveness' indicators such as electron event count rates. Our results yield generally valid, continuous inputs of the space environment for studies of Mercury's magnetosphere, exosphere, and surface."
Grigsby was selected this month by the National Space Club as the 2014 recipient of the National Space Educator Award. His award will be presented on March 7, 2014, at the 57th Annual Robert H. Goddard Memorial Dinner at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C. Since 1982, this award has been given annually to secondary school teachers who mentor students in the field of space, science, and technology. Recipients are also given a $1,500 grant and a plaque for their respective school.
Grigsby is the science department chair at Shasta High School and the coordinator of MESSENGER's Student Planetary Investigator Program. In that program, students -- with the assistance of science mentors -- are given an opportunity to add to the body of data on Mercury by performing research on the planet's anomalous density, its geologic history, its magnetic field, its core, the unusual materials at Mercury's poles, and other volatiles found on the surface.
Grigsby was previously the director of the Arizona State University (ASU) Mars Education and Outreach Program within the Mars Space Flight Facility at ASU's School of Earth and Space Exploration. While at ASU, he created a new standards-based curriculum that allows educators nationwide to be involved in the exploration of Mars while continuing to meet their educational objectives.
"It is wonderful that AGU and the National Space Club have recognized the exceptional contributions of Catherine, Ryan, and Brian," said MESSENGER Principal Investigator Sean Solomon of Columbia University. "All of us on the MESSENGER team are proud to be working with these outstanding colleagues."
MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) is a NASA-sponsored scientific investigation of the planet Mercury and the first space mission designed to orbit the planet closest to the Sun. The MESSENGER spacecraft launched on August 3, 2004, and entered orbit about Mercury on March 17, 2011 (March 18, 2011 UTC), to begin a yearlong study of its target planet. MESSENGER's first extended mission began on March 18, 2012, and ended one year later. MESSENGER is now in a second extended mission, which is scheduled to conclude in March 2015. Dr. Sean C. Solomon, the Director of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, leads the mission as Principal Investigator. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory built and operates the MESSENGER spacecraft and manages this Discovery-class mission for NASA.
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