Volcanoes on earth can be beautiful and frightening. But what about volcanoes in space? Today we’d like you to meet Rosaly Lopes, a planetary geologist and volcanologist who could tell you all about it.
Born on January 8th in Rio de Janeiro, Lopes studied astronomy at the University of London. After visiting Mount Etna in July of 1979 and seeing the active crater of the volcano, Lopes began to concentrate on volcanology. She went on to earn her PhD in planetary science, writing her thesis on the volcanoes of Earth and Mars.
Inspired by reading about Frances Northcutt, a NASA staff member on the Apollo Program, Lopes soon joined the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. She first worked on the Galileo spacecraft and discovered 71 different volcanoes on Io, one of the moons of Jupiter. This discovery earned her a Guinness World Record for discovering the most active volcanoes anywhere. Now, Lopes works on the Cassini mission, studying Titan, a moon of Saturn, which displays signs of ice volcanism.
Lopes doesn’t keep her eyes to the sky, but also looks at terrestrial volcanoes in order to broaden her understanding of the different mechanisms for geological activity. She told National Geographic, “Volcanism is one of the most fundamental processes in the solar system.“
Along with writing several books like Alien Volcanoes and The Volcano Adventure Guide, Lopes does regular media appearances to teach the public more about volcanism and planetary geology. She has appeared in documentaries and shows on The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, and National Geographic. Lopes has said “I think anyone, no matter what they do, should try to experience a volcanic eruption at least once in their life.”
A talented communicator and mentor, Lopes serves on numerous committees and works with many organizations in order to further their scientific missions and promote diversity in scientific fields. She received the Carl Sagan Medal in 2005, which is awarded to scientists “whose efforts have significantly contributed to a public understanding of and enthusiasm for planetary science.”
Written by Mary Ratliff