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Distinguished NASA scientist
to present public talk
Physical Sciences Editor
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CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — David Morrison,
a senior scientist at the NASA Astrobiology Institute, will present
the sixth talk in the department of astronomy’s Icko Iben Jr. Distinguished Lectureship at 4 p.m. Nov. 5 in Foellinger
Auditorium, 709 S. Mathews Ave., Urbana. The talk, "Cosmic Collisions:
How Astronomers are Saving the World," is free and open to the
"David Morrison is internationally known for his research on small
bodies in the solar system," said Lewis Snyder, the chair of the
astronomy department. "His talk on identifying and avoiding asteroids
that could pose a threat to Earth should be of interest to faculty,
students and the general public."
While the probability of an impact from an asteroid or comet (often
called Near Earth Objects) is low, the potential for destruction is
immense. "The consequences are so catastrophic, we must evaluate
the nature of the threat and be prepared to deal with it," Morrison
said. "If such an object were to strike Earth, the effects of the
collision could depress global temperatures, leading to a massive loss
of food crops and the possible breakdown of society… potentially
affecting the entire planet and its population."
One possible way of avoiding a collision, he said, involves intercepting
the object while it is still far from Earth and detonating a nuclear
warhead above the object’s surface, forcing it to change direction.
Morrison chaired the original NASA study of the impact hazard in 1992.
He also served as chair of the International Astronomical Union Working
Group on Near Earth Objects. Asteroid 2410 Morrison is named in his
A native of Danville, Ill., Morrison earned his bachelor’s degree
in physics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and
his doctorate in astronomy from Harvard University. Before joining the
National Aeronautics and Space Administration, he was a professor of
astronomy at the University of Hawaii. From 1996-2001, he was the Director
of Astrobiology and Space Research at the NASA Ames Research Center,
where he managed basic and applied research programs in the space, life
and Earth sciences.
Morrison is the author of more than 130 technical papers and a dozen
books. He is the recipient of the Dryden Medal for research from the
American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and of the Klumpke-Roberts
award of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for contributions to
science education. He also has received two NASA Outstanding Leadership
medals, for contributions to the Galileo Mission and for dealing with
the hazard of asteroid and comet impacts.
Morrison was instrumental in defining the new multidisciplinary field
of astrobiology, including leadership in establishing the scientific
goals and objectives of the NASA Astrobiology Roadmap. His primary current
interests are in developing the science of astrobiology, in protecting
Earth from an asteroid impact, and in improving science education and
Each year the Iben lectureship brings a noted astronomer to campus to
highlight some of the latest developments in astronomy, Snyder said.
In addition to giving a public lecture, the invited speaker also will
give a technical colloquium and meet informally with faculty members