The Big Question: Imke de Pater on life in the solar system

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Imke de Pater is a Professor at the University of California in Berkeley (@UCBerkley). She is well known for her work on Jupiter’s synchrotron radiation, for which she received the URSI John Howard Dellinger Gold Medal in Aug. 1984. She led a worldwide campaign observing Jupiter’s radio emissions during the impact of comet D/Shoemaker-Levy 9 with Jupiter in 1994. This work has lead to a detailed investigation of the effects of impacts on the magnetospheric environment of the planet.

Professor de Pater’s research interests include: infrared observations using adaptive optics on the Keck, Gemini and VLT telescopes of e.g., the giant planets, their ring systems, and the satellites Titan and Io. She also continues to observe the giant planets at radio wavelengths using the (recently upgraded) Very Large Array, ALMA, and LOFAR.

Her book Planetary Sciences was awarded the 2007 Chambliss Award for Writing from the American Astronomical Society.Later


What is the biggest question facing your field?

My field is planetary science, that is planets in our solar system.

The two biggest questions are: How did life start and evolve?
A more tangible question is: How did our solar system form and evolve?

Why is it significant?

We are all curious about where we come from, how our Earth came to be, and how life started on Earth. This is tied directly to whether life may exist at present or in the past anywhere else in our Solar System, or in the universe at large.

Where is the answer likely to come from?

In order to determine how our solar system formed and evolved, we need to characterize the individual bodies in our solar system, such as comets, asteroids, and our planets. Composition is extremely important, as is surface structure (e.g., craters), and multiplicity (planets, asteroids with moonlets). Detailed numerical modeling studies of different formation scenarios can then be used to explain the characteristics of both individual bodies and ensembles of objects.

Observations via remote sensing at all wavelengths (X-rays through cm-wavelengths) from the ground (telescopes on Earth and in Earth’s orbit) and in-situ are required to characterize bodies in our solar system in detail.

For more information, visit Imke de Pater’s lab page.

IMAGE SOURCE: Creative Commons; Imke de Pater

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