A cosmic chemist, an observational cosmologist, and a "gamma-ray argonaut" working at three NASA research centers are among "the most influential people in space," according to a special issue of TIME magazine published this month. In the "New Space Discoveries" issue, now available on newsstands, the editors of TIME select 25 of "the most brilliant" explorers working in a wide range of space-related fields.
"As the frontiers of space expand, so do the opportunities for its explorers: to pilot spacecraft, spot planets, search for aliens – and share their passion," the article states.
The three NASA researchers selected are Louis Allamandola, founder of the Astrophyiscs and Astrochemistry Laboratory at Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.; Chryssa Kouveliotou, an astrophysicist at Marshall Space Flight Center, Huntsville, Ala.; and Nobel Prize winner John Mather of Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.
Louis Allamandola and his colleagues replicated a space-like environment to discover how molecules from space helped create Earth. A senior researcher in the Ames Space Science Division, Allamandola has over 35 years of experience in pioneering laboratory studies on the chemistry, composition, and spectroscopy of interstellar matter with emphasis on organics and interstellar and solar system ices.
This unique laboratory he founded at Ames produces extraterrestrial material analogs under conditions realistically close to space environments, ranging from molecules and ions in gas-phase interstellar clouds and planetary atmospheres to interstellar, cometary, and planetary ices and dust. These materials are studied using a range of analytical techniques. From these experiments, scientists have built a database that has been used in conjunction with astronomical data to search for and identify molecules in space.
Chryssa Kouveliotou, a NASA astrophysicist since 2004, has been the principal investigator on numerous research projects in the United States and Europe. She currently is a co-investigator on the Gamma-ray Burst Monitor, an instrument flying aboard the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope; a Swift associated scientist; and a member of the NuSTAR Science Team.
Kouveliotou's research has expanded the scientific understanding of fleeting, transient phenomena in the Milky Way galaxy and throughout the high-energy universe. Besides determining the unique properties of the highly energetic emissions from gamma-ray bursts - the brightest and most powerful events in the universe - she was part of the team that first revealed the extragalactic nature of these sources. She and her team made the first confirmed detection of ultra-dense neutron stars called magnetars: the cinders of stars left over after a supernova, which have incredibly powerful magnetic fields.
John Mather is a senior astrophysicist in the Observational Cosmology Laboratory at NASA Goddard and senior project scientist on the James Webb Space Telescope. Mather shared the 2006 Nobel Prize for Physics with George Smoot of the University of California for their work using the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite to measure the heat radiation from the Big Bang.
As a National Research Council postdoctoral fellow, Mather led the proposal efforts for the COBE mission in the 1970s. He came to Goddard as COBE study scientist and eventually the mission's project scientist. Mather and the COBE team showed that the cosmic microwave background radiation has a blackbody spectrum within 50 parts per million, confirming the Big Bang theory to extraordinary accuracy.