Celebrated NASA planet hunter shifts his sights back to climate change on Earth

William Borucki has had an amazing scientific career. One of his first jobs was at NASA Ames Research Center, where he worked on the Apollo moon missions, including helping to develop the heat shield for the space shuttle. After the successful moon landings, Borucki shifted to NASA’s Theoretical Studies Branch in the 1970s, where he developed models of the Earth’s atmosphere to predict the effects of nitric oxides and chlorofluoromethanes on the ozone layer. Both were determined to contribute to the problem of ozone depletion and the hole in the ozone layer.

In the 1980s, Borucki began advocating the development of a space mission that could detect Earth-size planets. He published a paper in 1984 showing that a photometer 1,000 times more precise than any in existence could detect Earth-size planets. Undeterred by rejections of four proposals in the 1990s for a planet-finding mission, Borucki was ultimately appointed Principle Investigator in 2001 for NASA’s new Keppler Mission to discover these planets. During its four years of its operation, the Kepler Mission discovered over 4,600 planetary candidates, confirmed more than 1,000 as planets, and made numerous contributions to stellar astrophysics.

For his work in conceiving and leading the Kepler Mission, Borucki was awarded the Shaw Prize in astronomy. He decided to donate a portion of the award to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) to support the organization’s work in addressing climate change, explaining,

I’ve spent a large portion of my career searching for other worlds. What we’ve found has underscored how important it is to protect this one. While we can detect other worlds, we cannot go to them. Our future is here on Earth and we must do much more to ensure that our planet’s climate remains hospitable.

The UCS has a reputation for actively and successfully advocating mitigation of the climate change problem. Their arguments are based on scientifically valid arguments and on comprehensive climate data and model results.

I asked Dr. Borucki about his perceptions of the threats posed by human-caused climate change, and his thoughts on the steps we’ve taken so far to address them.

I consider the threat to be severe. Substantial changes are already occurring to the environment that effect many people; especially those who are impoverished. In the 1980s, the Climatic Impact Assessment Program warned that if changes weren’t made very soon, it would be difficult to reverse the changes. Clearly, they were correct.

I am very hopeful because the leaders of many countries (and some religious leaders) now recognize the problem as an imminent threat and are meeting to develop a consensus as to the most practical methods of mitigating it.

Searching for Earth-like planets has made Dr. Borucki appreciate our own and the need to preserve it

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Posted by dana1981 on Thursday, 24 September, 2015

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