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International Authority on Comets to Speak at Mercer

February 1, 2008

Media Contact:
Mark Vanderhoek
(478) 301-4037

MACON — One of the world’s leading cometary scientists, Paul Weissman, Ph.D., a senior researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will deliver two lectures at Mercer University’s Macon campus on Wednesday, Feb. 6. The lectures are free and open to the public.

Weissman will speak at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. in the Auditorium (Room 110) of the Science and Engineering Building off College Street. The first lecture is entitled “Physical Characterization of Cometary Nuclei” and will be of a highly technical nature suitable for college students and those with a deep interest in comet science.

The 7:30 speech is entitled “Exploring Comets: New Results form the Stardust and Deep Impact Missions.” In the lecture, Weissman will give an overview of comets and two recent NASA missions to explore them.

For more information on the two lectures, visit

According to Weissman, comets are giant dirty snowballs in space, remnants of the formation of the solar system.  They provide a unique record of conditions in the primordial solar nebula 4.57 billion years ago.  Two recent NASA missions to comets have provided new insights into the nature of comets.  The Stardust mission flew by Comet 81P/Wild 2 in January 2004 and collected samples of cometary dust that were returned to Earth in 2006.  These samples have provided many surprises about the early solar system.  The Deep Impact mission targeted a 372 kg impactor on a collision course with Comet 9P/Tempel 1 in 2005 and then observed the spectacular results. The lecture will describe these results and their importance to understanding the origin of the solar system.

“Dr. Weissman is one of the world’s leading authorities on comet science and has participated in many of NASA’s most important comet research,” said Matthew Marone, Ph.D., associate professor of physics at Mercer. “He was the lead scientist on the Deep Impact Mission, which analyzed the results of a comet on comet collision. It was one of the great leaps forward in comet science.”

Marone, who teaches astronomy at Mercer, said the Weissman has all of the leading research on comets and will be able to answer any questions related to comets.

Mercer’s Department of Physics is the host for the event, which was made possible through funding provided by the American Astronomical Society and its Harloy Shapley Visiting Lecture Program.

Weissman is widely published in areas of comet science and origins of the universe and is the coauthor of “The Great Voyager Adventure” and co-editor of two editions of “The Encyclopedia of the Solar System” He has served in various scientific positions at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab since 1979, working on a number of space missions. He is currently a senior research scientist at the lab and astronomy science lead at the Table Mountain Observatory and serves as interdisciplinary scientist with the International Rosetta Mission, a deep space mission to explore a comet.

Weissman earned his bachelor’s in physics from Cornell University, master’s in astronomy from the University of Massachusetts and a master’s and Ph.D. in planetary and space physics from the University of California-Los Angeles.

About Mercer University:
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University has 7,300 students; 11 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing and continuing and professional studies; major campuses in Macon and Atlanta; four regional academic centers across the state; a university press; two teaching hospitals — Memorial Health University Medical Center and the Medical Center of Central Georgia; educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta; an engineering research center in Warner Robins; a performing arts center in Macon; and a NCAA Division I athletic program. For more information, visit
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