On March 9, 1979, a young astronomer, Linda Morabito sat at her computer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and noticed a strange object on Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. This object turned out to be a volcano – and for the first time humans understood that other worlds could be as complex and interesting as our own. This historic moment was the culmination of Morabito’s career; on her website she said, “It was a moment that every astronomer, every planetary scientist lives for. When you see something like that it evokes the deepest questions of your scientific interest.”
Born in Vancouver, Canada, Morabito immigrated to the United States in 1961. As a child, she always wanted to be an astronomer. She graduated from the University of Southern California with a B.S. in astronomy in 1974 and did graduate work in computer science at USC. She joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory for temporary summer employment and accepted a position after receiving her graduate degree in planetary science. There, she worked on a number of projects, including the Viking mission to Mars, until 1978.
It was there that she discovered an anomalous “crescent” off the limb of Io in a picture that had been taken by Voyager 1 for navigation. She proposed a series of hypotheses and conducted investigations and was able to deduce that the observation was a plume erupting from the surface of Io, and volcanic in origin.
Morabito later joined The Planetary Society, where she conducted educational outreach for the Mars Global Surveyor mission, leading to the involvement of students in the Mars Exploration Rover mission with the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. She became an Associate Professor of Astronomy at Victor Valley College in 2007, where she currently teaches.
During her childhood, Morabito suffered abuse and trauma and today has PTSD. She is a strong advocate for PTSD awareness and a champion of PTSD treatment. She also focuses on spirituality in healing and has written several books on the relationship between scientific and spiritual exploration.
Written by Nicole Hutchison