As a Deputy Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Dr. Amy Mainzer, scans the sky looking for what surprises might be out there.
As part of her work at JPL she uses infrared spectroscopy, which is the analysis of infrared light interacting with matter. This analysis can help scientists discover what an asteroid is comprised of without having to send a space craft to every one of the over one million asteroids in our system.
Mainzer worked with the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) launched into orbit in 2009. Its mission was to scan the entirety of the sky twice, using four infrared bands, snapping pictures of three-quarters of a billion objects. As it neared the end of its mission, WISE began to search for near earth objects as part of the NEOWISE project. WISE was put into hibernation in 2011 but was brought back to life two years later.
Serving as the principal investigator for the NEOWISE, Mainzer, along with a team of scientists, uses the information from the sweeps to gather measurements about asteroids and comets that might pose a threat to Earth, and just six days after the survey started, it discovered its first potentially hazardous near-Earth asteroid.
Mainzer also serves as the principal investigator of the Near Earth Object Camera, which is a proposed project that was given development funding in 2011 from the Discovery project at NASA. The NEOcam is designed to discover and characterize most of the potentially hazardous asteroids that are near Earth and consists of a wide-field camera operating at thermal infrared wavelengths and an infrared telescope.
Asteroid 234750 – Amymainzer was named in her honor and in 2015 She had the opportunity to assign a name to an asteroid and chose to honor Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai and its official designation was made as 316201 Malala. Along with her work at JPL, Mainzer has been featured on the History Channel’s series The Universe multiple times and is the science consultant and the live-action host of the PBS KIDS series Ready Jet Go!
Written by Angela Goad