MIT Scientist to Discuss "Expedition to an Asteroid" at Williams, Sept. 26

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., September 19, 2002–Maria T. Zuber, the E.A. Griswold Professor of Geophysics and Planetary Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will deliver the first lecture in the Five Colleges Speaker Series at Williams College.

The title of her lecture will be “Expedition to an Asteroid: The near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous Mission.” The lecture is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 26, at 8 p.m. in the Thompson Chemistry Laboratory’s Wege Auditorium.

Zuber will discuss the successful 2001 NASA Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR) expedition, in which a Shoemaker spacecraft orbited and subsequently landed on the asteroid 433 Eros.

Eros is the second largest of a group of asteroids capable of passing within 121 million miles of the Earth. There are an estimated 1800 such asteroids in existence, though only 400 are potentially hazardous to Earth. Scientists believe it is important to learn more about their composition to aid in developing the safest and most effective means of redirecting or destroying such asteroids, should they pose a threat to human life.

Zuber is also a member of the NASA team analyzing data gathered via the laser altimeter of the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft. She is researching the global topography and internal structure of Mars, the density structure of the Martian atmosphere, and the altimetry of the coastal ocean. She has been honored with the NASA Group Achievement Award for the Mars Program Independent Assessment Team, as well as that for the Mars Global Surveyor Science Team. She is also the namesake of Asteroid 6635, as discovered and designated by Carolyn and Eugene Shoemaker at Palomar Observatory, 1987.

She received her B.A. in astrophysics and geology from the University of Pennsylvania and her Ph.D. in geophysics from Brown University. Prior to joining the faculty of MIT, she taught geophysics at the Johns Hopkins University, and served as a research associate in the geodynamics branch of the National Research Council.