SETI Institute Principal Investigator
Astronomer Peter Jenniskens started his career predicting meteor showers, which happen as the Earth passes through the debris of comets. Jenniskens sees in these meteors an important pathway to deliver ingredients needed for life’s origin. Before his research, scientists had imagined that any organic molecules borne in meteoroids would burn up on impact. By exploiting the spectacles of meteor storms and, more recently, the artificial fireball caused by the return of NASA’s Sample Return Capsules, Jenniskens and his team have shown that the physical conditions surrounding the descent of meteoroids are so strange that they can not be reproduced in the laboratory. Jenniskens takes his team to 39,000 feet, in airborne campaigns that provide the best view above the weather and above most of the atmosphere’s water vapor. There, he studies the debris of comets for clues about their composition, how to predict their next arrival, how to protect satellites in orbit against their impact, and how their organic molecules are chemically changed in the blazing light of meteors to enrich Earth in unsuspected ways.
- SETI Institute Explorer, Special Edition 2005