Education

How I Became Interested in Exogeology
07.07.10
 
Zoe Bentley at JPLZoe Bentley during a visit to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

tektite rockTektites like the one here aren’t meteorites, but they are made by meteor impacts. Image credit: Zoe Bentley

Barringer Meteorite CraterMy family and I often explore rocks. Here we are at Barringer Meteorite Crater. Image credit: Zoe Bentley
Larger view
I'm Zoe Bentley, a 13-year-old homeschooler from Arizona. I recently won second place in the NASA/USA Today "No Boundaries" contest for my "Exogeology ROCKS!" project. I chose to create a project about exogeology because I plan to become an exogeologist and work for NASA.

One of the really cool careers that can be pursued at NASA is as an exogeologist, otherwise known as a planetary scientist, a planetary geologist or a planetary astronomer.

I've always liked geology and astronomy. Looking up is amazing, and so is looking down! :) When researching a geology project late last year, I learned I could combine those interests into one: Exogeology!

Quantifying exactly why this is an amazing field is tough! There are so many reasons someone might want to pursue this field. Those include:

• It's space! Who hasn't wanted to see things that are out of this world or explore other planets? I think that would rock!
• It's rocks! Have you ever wanted to see a moon rock or a meteorite? Exogeology is all about rocks like those.
• It's exciting! Did you know that Jupiter's moon Io has the most active volcanoes in the solar system, or that the dinosaurs were killed off 65 million years ago by an asteroid impact? Also, exogeologists can travel around the world to see areas similar to other planets.

Living in Arizona has given me the opportunity to study rocks and stars firsthand. We have over 300 clear nights a year and I spend many of those stargazing. I love seeing the Milky Way late at night and picking constellations out of the sky. During daytime hours, I can often be found rock collecting. I'm always finding interesting rocks and minerals, and learning what they are made of is amazing. I sometimes even turn them into jewelry and/or display them.

For geology, I like trying to figure out what different rocks are, identifying them, figuring out how they were formed and determining the chronological order of geological formations. This is amazing! I also think it rocks finding out exactly how things like volcanoes, earthquakes and rivers work.

For astronomy, I started watching shows like NOVA on PBS and The Universe on the History Channel years ago and I was hooked. The astronomy in those shows is really interesting. I particularly enjoy seeing how different other planets are compared with Earth. It's also amazing to find out about black and white holes, star formation and galaxies.

Want to know what exogeologists are doing right now? Exogeologists at NASA are currently working on many projects, including:

Mars Science Laboratory -- NASA's Curiosity rover, launching in 2011, will be figuring out the composition of rocks, how rocks were formed and how they changed over time.
Mars Exploration Rovers -- NASA's Spirit and Opportunity rovers have done so much geology work I can't say it all here! Their main objective was to characterize a wide variety of rocks and soils to possibly find evidence for water. They've accomplished that goal and have kept on going for much longer than expected.
Dawn -- Dawn's mission is to explore the asteroids Ceres and Vesta.

See my award-winning site Exogeology ROCKS! to keep up to date on my ongoing video project, fictional exogeologist Petra Stone's blog, new photographs and games, and much more!

Read about Zoe's trip to JPL here: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/jpl/education/zoe-20100824.html .