Carolyn Porco

Sr. Research Scientist, Space Center Institute

Carolyn Porco is the leader of the imaging science team on the Cassini mission in orbit around Saturn from 2004 to 2017, a veteran imaging scientist of the Voyager mission to the outer solar system in the 1980s, and an associate member of the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. Carolyn has co-authored over 125 scientific papers on a variety of subjects in astronomy and planetary science and has become a regular public commentator on science, astronomy, planetary exploration, and the intersection of science and religion. Her popular science writings have appeared in such distinguished publications as the London Sunday Times, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, Astronomy magazine, the PBS and BBC websites, the Arizona Daily Star, Sky and Telescope, Scientific American, and American Scientist.

Carolyn’s research over the past 40 years has ranged across the outer solar system to the interstellar medium. Before Cassini’s arrival at Saturn in 2004, her research focused on the planetary rings encircling the giant planets and the interactions between rings and orbiting moons. In particular, she was responsible for the discovery of one of the Neptune ring arcs; for elucidating the behavior of the non-axisymmetric rings and ring edges in the rings of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune; and working with Mark Marley (now at NASA Ames Research Center) in predicting in 1993 that acoustic occultation within the body of Saturn could produce specific wave features in Saturn’s rings. This prediction was verified 20 years later using Cassini occultation observations, resulting in the first demonstration that planetary rings could serve as a seismograph and ultimately provide the means to improve knowledge of a planet’s internal structure.

Carolyn has also been responsible for leading the Cassini imaging team in a host of seminal discoveries on Jupiter and its ring during Cassini’s flyby of that planet in 2000/2001, and on Saturn and its rings and moons since the spacecraft’s arrival there in 2004.

In 2010, Porco was awarded the Carl Sagan Medal, presented by the American Astronomical Society for Excellence in the Communication of Science to the Public. In 2012, she was named one of the 25 most influential people in space by Time magazine.