We recently published a list of scientists who are changing the world right now. Of the 50 scientists on our list, a handful of them are deeply committed to space exploration.
These nine scientists are seriously altering the way we view and think about outer space. From first missions to Pluto to lab research and study, this group is moving past physical limits to raise awareness, develop scientific theories, and discover life beyond Earth.
Meet the nine inspiring scientists who are all about space.
Alan Stern is spearheading the most important space mission of 2015.
On July 14, 2015, the NASA spacecraft New Horizons flew by Pluto — closer than any other human-made instrument has ever been. Alan Stern is spearheading the mission, leading the team of scientists that made sure the spacecraft survived its nine-year journey through space.
Until New Horizons reached its closest approach to Pluto, little was known about this dwarf planet and its system of five moons. Now the NASA spacecraft has collected data that Stern and his team will be analyzing over the coming months to understand the geology, composition, and atmospheric content of Pluto in significant detail, something that would never have happened without the New Horizons spacecraft.
Stern is the principal investigator for NASA’s New Horizons mission.
Andrea Accomazzo was the first person to land a probe on a comet.
In August 2014, the Rosetta spacecraft began orbiting the comet 67P Churyumov-Gerasimenko and transmitting images to Earth of the dusty space snowball that were more detailed than anything we’d ever seen.
Ultimately, Rosetta will give scientists a better idea of what comets are made of and how they work, as well as provide insights into the chemical makeup of the solar system. As the Rosetta flight director, Andrea Accomazzo helped design the mission and led the team that guided it toward 67P. Now he’s working with the European Space Agency on their interplanetary missions to Mercury, Mars, and Jupiter.
Accomazzo is an ESA spacecraft-operations manager at Venus Express and the flight director of the Rosetta mission.
Andrea Pocar took us a step closer to understanding how the sun generates energy.
We all know that the sun is a gigantic nuclear furnace, but until now we didn’t know exactly how it produces energy. To figure it out, scientists have been tracking pp neutrinos — tiny particles released when two protons fuse together deep inside the sun, as lead author Andrea Pocar presented in a recent paper on the Borexino experiment. Through the experiment, scientists are analyzing the elusive particles by blocking out all other noise around a vat of material that emits light when excited by a neutrino.
Because these neutrinos are proof that protons are fusing within the sun, finally observing them helps confirm our theories about how the sun creates energy using fusion — and what’s going on inside while that happens.
Pocar is an associate professor in the department of physics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
Chris Hadfield is increasing public awareness about space exploration and was the first Canadian to walk in space.
As the first Canadian to walk in space, aboard Expedition 34/35 on the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield gained international fame after his cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity” — which he recorded on the ISS — went viral, garnering over 25 million views.
In addition to his accomplishments as an astronaut, Hadfield is the author of two New York Times best-selling books, “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” and “You Are Here.” Hadfield continues to be an active presence on Twitter, Facebook, and Periscope, and he has recently hosted live chats explaining space exploration.
Hadfield is a former Canadian Space Agency astronaut.
Emily Levesque is discovering the hidden mechanisms driving the formation and collapse of massive stars and galaxies.
As a Hubble Fellow, Emily Levesque works to improve our understanding of massive stars by building models of galaxies and analyzing wavelength data. Her breakthroughs in understanding these immense stellar bodies will allow researchers to take advantage of advancements in space technology. In the past few years, Levesque and her team updated models of star-forming galaxies, focusing on how they are affected by rotation.
Levesque is a Hubble Fellow at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Gianluca Gregori created a supernova — a powerful explosion that can radiate as much energy at once as the sun’s entire life span — in a lab.
Last year, Gianluca Gregori and graduate student Jena Meinecke created a supernova — one of the most powerful explosive forces in the universe — in a lab. Current theories state that the magnetic fields in outer space should be a uniform strength, but in reality the fields are much stronger than scientists expected.
To figure out what makes the magnetic field so strong, Gianluca placed a rod of carbon in a chamber filled with argon to simulate outer space. When he hit the carbon with a laser, it resulted in a powerful explosion of plasma filled with so much energy it mimicked a supernova, an explosion so powerful that it briefly outshines an entire galaxy. This experiment helps show scientists why the magnetic fields in exploded stars are so uneven and gives them a way to explore what makes forces in the universe stronger than what they theoretically should be.
Gregori is a professor of physics at Oxford University in England.
Katherine Freese developed a revolutionary theory about a new kind of star.
Author of “The Cosmic Cocktail,” Katherine Freese was one of the first women undergraduate students to graduate with a physics major from Princeton University. She has since taken a position as the director for one of the most prestigious theoretical institutes in the world in Stockholm and is credited for her ground-breaking work to better understand dark matter — one of the most outstanding cosmic mysteries of the century. Scientists know that there’s some invisible material that makes up 26% of matter in the universe, but they don’t know what it is. They call this substance dark matter and there are dozens of instruments around the world trying to discover particles of this substance. But Freese has another idea.
Freese has developed the theory of “dark stars” that could be a bizarre type of star powered not by nuclear fusion but dark matter. Part of Freese’s work is to determine how these dark stars might be observed in the universe. If she’s successful in spotting one, it could be the first time anyone has ever observed dark matter directly.
Freese is the George Eugene Uhlenbeck Collegiate Professor of Physics at the University of Michigan.
Sara Seager has discovered more than 700 new planets.
Sara Seager has one big goal: Find another Earth.
While that discovery remains elusive, she’s already helped discover a whopping 715 exoplanets using the Kepler Space Telescope. By studying and understanding the composition and temperature of these planets, scientists are a step closer to being able to identify atmospheres similar to Earth’s. Ultimately, if Seager succeeds in finding another life-sustaining planet, the scientific possibilities are endless.
Seager is an astrophysicist and planetary scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Shep Doeleman is trying to snap the first photo of a black hole.
One of the most mysterious objects in the universe is the black hole, a region of space with gravity so powerful it’s strong enough to trap light and is thus invisible.
Shep Doeleman is ready with an army of telescopes across the globe. Doeleman is out to unveil the cloak of invisibility surrounding the black hole at the center of our home galaxy, the Milky Way, by snapping a picture of it. If he succeeds, it would be the first picture of a black hole in history. Some are saying it would be the “image of the century.”
Doeleman is a principal research scientist at MIT and an assistant director at the Haystack Observatory.
This article is published in collaboration with Business Insider. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: Tanza Loudenback writes for the lists team at Business Insider.Jessica Orwig is a science reporter at Business Insider. Emmie Martin is a lists and features reporter at Business Insider.
Image: The dwarf planet Ceres taken by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft on February 19, 2015 from a distance of nearly 29,000 miles is shown in this handout photo provided by NASA March 2, 2015. REUTERS/NASA/Handout via Reuters.