mountain profile Institute for Astronomy University of Hawaii

UH Astronomer Receives Planetary Astronomy Prize

Maintained by LG

For immediate release
October 6, 2009


Mrs. Karen Rehbock
Assistant to the Director
Institute for Astronomy
University of Hawaii at Manoa


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Dr. Tobias Owen
Dr. Tobias Owen
Photo by Karen Teramura (IfA).

University of Hawaii at Manoa planetary astronomer Dr. Tobias Owen was today awarded the 2009 Gerard P. Kuiper Prize by the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) “for his outstanding contributions to the field of planetary science” at the annual DPS meeting in Fajardo, Puerto Rico.

The citation for the award stated, “Throughout his career, Toby’s ideas have pushed the intellectual and multidisciplinary development of our field, and his findings have advanced our understanding of the origin and evolution of the solar system.”

Owen began his career as a student of Gerard Kuiper, the illustrious Dutch-American astronomer for whom the prize is named. He has been involved in many of NASA’s major planetary missions over the past 40 years, including the ongoing Cassini-Huygens mission to the Saturn system. Owen was the American lead on a joint ESA-NASA team that developed this international mission and brought it to a new start in 1989. He is currently analyzing results from Cassini, the spacecraft that is still orbiting Saturn, and from the Huygens probe, which landed on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan in 2005.

Owen’s scientific achievements include the discovery of the rings of Jupiter and noble (inert) gases and heavy water on Mars, deducing the early existence of a new class of solar system building blocks called “solar composition icy planetesimals,” and establishing the importance of deuterium (heavy hydrogen) and other isotopes for studying the history and formation mechanisms of our solar system.

Owen joined the faculty of the UH Institute for Astronomy in 1990. He is a coauthor of two undergraduate textbooks, The Planetary System and The Search for Life in the Universe, both now in their third editions. He has also authored over 300 scientific articles.

This June, Owen received the NASA Medal for Exceptional Public Service. In 2006, he received the University of Hawaii's Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Research, shared the Grand Prix Marcel Dassault of the French Academy of Sciences with two colleagues for developing the Huygens probe, and received an honorary doctor’s degree from the Observatoire de Paris.

The AAS is the major society of professional astronomers in North America. Founded in 1968 by a committee organized by Owen, Joseph Chamberlain and Carl Sagan, the DPS is the subdivision of the AAS that focuses on solar system research.

Founded in 1967, the Institute for Astronomy at the University of Hawaii at Manoa conducts research into galaxies, cosmology, stars, planets, and the sun. Its faculty and staff are also involved in astronomy education, deep space missions, and in the development and management of the observatories on Haleakala and Mauna Kea.

Established in 1907 and fully accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the University of Hawaii is the state's sole public system of higher education. The UH System provides an array of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees and community programs on 10 campuses and through educational, training, and research centers across the state. UH enrolls more than 50,000 students from Hawaii, the U.S. mainland, and around the world.