Dr. Brad Dalton

December 20, 2006

SETI Institute Principal Investigator

Brad Dalton has been a Principal Investigator for the SETI Institute Center for the Study of Life in the Universe since March 2003. Prior to that he held a National Research Council Post-doctoral Fellowship at NASA-Ames Research Center where he focused on studies of planetary surface materials. He is a member of the NASA Astrobiology Institute's Europa Focus Group, and is involved in the planning phase of the Jupiter Icy Moon Orbiter (JIMO) and New Horizons Kuiper Belt-Pluto missions.

Dr. Dalton's primary research centers on the applications of infrared imaging spectroscopy to characterize surface and atmospheric composition. Recent work includes investigations of the surfaces of Mars and Europa, the atmosphere of Venus, and environmental issues of water quality in an ancient volcanic system of the Rocky Mountains as well as the salt ponds of the southern San Francisco Bay.

Having taken physics as a high school sophomore in order to better design a space war computer game he was writing, Dr. Dalton developed a stronger and more serious interest in science prior to graduating with honors in 1982. He then attended Washington University in St. Louis with a National Merit Scholarship, where he majored separately in both Computer Science and Physics. Meanwhile he worked in the McDonnell Center for Space Science, for a meteoritics research group headed by Dr. Ernst Zinner. After graduating, he came to NASA-Ames where he developed atmospheric radiative transfer models with Dr. Jim Pollack. In 1992 he returned to graduate school at the University of Colorado in Boulder, where he earned a Masters in Geophysics and a Ph.D. in Astrophysical,
Planetary, and Atmospheric Sciences. During this time he worked as a geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey in Denver with Dr. Roger Clark, and studied imaging spectroscopy of Earth, Mars and the Galilean satellites of Jupiter. At present he is involved in several projects applying infrared observation techniques to Earth, Venus, Mars, and the satellites of the outer planets.

“An imaging spectrometer is like a camera,” explains astrogeophysicist Brad Dalton, “except that instead of taking a picture with three channels -- red, green and blue -- they use hundreds to thousands of channels.” Using measurements taken by orbiting spacecraft, Dalton has studied the surfaces and atmospheres of Earth, Mars, Venus, and the moons of Jupiter through full-spectrum images. “Each spectrum is a chemical fingerprint,” says Dalton, “which can tell me all sorts of things about a surface or a cloud formation: what it is made of, how big the particles are, how much of each component is present, what temperature is it.”


“The applications of my techniques, many of which are still under development,” Dalton notes, “range from quantifying the extent of environmental damage on the Earth to searching for life on Europa.” By studying the mineralogy of ancient stream deposits on Mars, he searches for clues about the evolution of Mars’ climate. Analyzing microbes in the wetlands and salt ponds of San Francisco Bay helps him develop a monitoring protocol for the largest environmental restoration project ever attempted on the West Coast. His research has direct applications, Dalton observes, “to saving the Earth’s biosphere, understanding the evolution of climate, searching for life in the solar system and beyond.”

- SETI Institute Explorer, Special Edition 2005