Rosaly Lopes

A formal photo of Rosaly Lopes, with shoulder length brown hair and a blue shirt. The podcast logo is on the lower left.
Women in STEM
Rosaly Lopes

Birth: January 8, 1957

Specialty: Planetary geology

Major Contributions:

Discovered 71 active volcanoes on Io

Senior Research Scientist at NASA JPL

Received Carl Sagan Medal

Image Source: NASA via Wikimedia Commons

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 with 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.  From 2002 to 2018, Lopes worked on the Cassini mission, studying Titan, a moon of Saturn, which displays signs of ice volcanism. Currently she is a Principal Investigator in NASA’s Astrobiology Institute, leading an international team in studying data acquired by CassinI focused on  the geology and potential habitability of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

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. 

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.

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. In 2017 was named the editor in chief of Icarus, a scientific journal focused on planetary science, making her the first woman to fill this role and  was given the Women in Space Science Award, from the Adler Planetarium in 2018.

Written by Mary Ratliff


Wikipedia: Rosaly Lopes

Adler Planetarium’s Annual Women in Space Science Award


NASA: Solar System Exploration – Rosaly Lopes

Division for Planetary Sciences of the AAS: Carl Sagan Medal

Oregon State University: Volcano World

See Also:

Cold Case: Possible Ice Volcano on Titan