Amy Mainzer

Women in STEM
Amy Mainzer

Birth: January 2, 1974

Specialty: Astronomy

Major Contributions:

Principal Investigator for NASA’s NEOWISE project

NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal (2012)

Chair of NASA’s Planetary Advisory Committee (PAC)

Image Courtesy of University of Arizona

Do you ever wonder about all the asteroids in our solar system – and what other surprises might be lurking out there beyond our little spot? There are many teams of scientists using both old and new technologies to try and help answer these questions. One of the leaders in this work is Dr. Amy Mainzer.

While a Deputy Project Manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab she used infrared spectroscopy, the analysis of infrared light interacting with matter to help determine what an asteroid is composed of without having to send a spacecraft to every one of the over one million asteroids in our system. 

Mainzer works with the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer or WISE. 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.

Serving as the principal investigator for 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. WISE was put into hibernation in 2011 but was brought back to life two years later and continues to scan the skies.

Mainzer also serves as the principal investigator of the Near Earth Object Surveyor, which is a proposed project that was given development funding in 2011 from the Discovery project at NASA and is on target to launch no later than June 2028.  The NEO Surveyor 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.

In 2019 she joined the faculty of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona but continues her roles at NEOWISE and NEO Surveyor.  Her newest research is using hyperspectral imaging, LIDAR, and field work to study the distribution of invasive weeds driving wildfires and causing loss of biodiversity. Along with all that, Mainzer is the science consultant, co-executive producer and the live-action host of the PBS KIDS series Ready Jet Go!

Written by Angela Goad


Amy Mainzer – NEOWISE Principal Investigator

Wikipedia: Amy Mainzer

NEO Surveyor | Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission

Introducing the Malala Asteroid

NASA Scientist Amy Mainzer Searches Beyond the Sky for Interesting Questions

See Also:

Twitter: @AmyMainzer

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Celestial Treasure Hunt (YouTube)

Ready Jet Go! (PBS)

NEOCam: Finding Asteroids Before They Find Us