Faculty Bulletin Board

Space physicist wins Royal Astronomical Society 2019 Gold Medal

Margaret Kivelson
Courtesy of Margaret Kivelson

Margaret Kivelson

Margaret Kivelson, professor emeritus of space physics in the UCLA College, who discovered an ocean inside Jupiter’s moon Europa and a magnetic field generated by neighboring Ganymede, has been awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s 2019 Gold Medal, the society announced today. Past winners include Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble and Stephen Hawking. The medal was first awarded in 1824.

Kivelson is receiving the Gold Medal in Geophysics “for a lifetime of outstanding achievement in understanding planetary magnetospheres and their connections to the planets they surround,” according to the citation from the society.

Her studies of Jupiter’s magnetospheric plasmas have allowed scientists to better understand the interiors of planets and their moons. Kivelson’s discoveries of the ocean inside Europa and of the magnetic field around Ganymede — Jupiter’s largest moon — showed that those icy bodies are not inert, but dynamic worlds.

In the 1970s, she conducted research on the first spacecraft measurements of solar terrestrial coupling, laying the foundations for understanding how magnetospheric convection feeds Earth’s radiation belts.

In the 1990s, Kivelson led the Galileo team to a series of outstanding discoveries including the magnetic fields of the Galilean satellites in orbit around Jupiter. And in this century, she has provided key insights into understanding Saturn’s system as part of the Cassini magnetometer team.

“Throughout her career, Professor Kivelson has been a true servant of the space science community,” the citation reads. Her co-edited book “An Introduction to Space Physics,” has played a “pivotal role in the education of many of the community, and continues to do so.”

“Overcoming prejudices against female scientists who combined career and family responsibilities, Margaret Kivelson is an inspiration to young women in space science,” the citation continues. “Still highly active and productive at the age of 90, Professor Kivelson is an inspiration, too, to young women and older researchers alike.”

She will be presented the award at the national astronomy meeting at England’s University of Lancaster in July, along with Robert Kennicutt of Texas A&M University’s Hagler Institute for Advanced Study, who is also receiving the Gold Medal in Astronomy.

Kivelson, who was profiled in The New York Times last October, and colleagues published research in Nature Astronomy last May offering the clearest evidence to date that there are “plumes” — eruptions of water vapor — venting from the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa. Using new modeling techniques to analyze data gathered in 1997 by the NASA Galileo spacecraft, they discovered surprising new details about Europa.

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