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Planetary accomplishments highlight first five years of research

SwRI branch office in Boulder, Colorado, celebrates anniversary

Boulder, Colorado -- September 7, 1999 -- In the fall of 1994, two space scientists and a secretary opened an office in downtown Boulder, Colorado. Five years later, this small outpost of the San Antonio-based Southwest Research Institute® (SwRI®) has grown to 21 researchers, resulting in one of the largest, most prestigious research groups to study asteroids, comets, and the origin and evolution of the solar system. The staff also undertake challenging research in the fields of solar physics and stellar astronomy.

Today, University of Colorado graduate assistants and visiting scientists from as far away as France work with the technical staff of the Department of Space Studies (DoSS). The office constitutes the largest concentration of doctoral-level planetary researchers in the Rocky Mountain region.

"The creation of a Boulder office was designed to broaden the scope of division activities and make SwRI a larger player in the nation's space research effort," says Dr. James Burch, vice president of the SwRI Instrumentation and Space Research Division, which oversees DoSS activities from San Antonio. "We didn't anticipate so much growth, so quickly. The Boulder activities have grown substantially in the last five years and complement the space research activities in San Antonio very well."

Research, performed in many cases with scientists from numerous other institutions, has resulted in an impressive array of accomplishments.

DoSS scientists recently found the source of the high-speed solar wind, which flows from the sun, using SOHO. These studies could lead to a better understanding of the interactions between the solar wind and the magnetosphere, which sometimes disrupt satellites and other systems.

SwRI scientists developed the theory that there should be a "scattered disk" of Kuiper Belt objects, which was later confirmed. In addition, research has shown that there may be stars, 10 to 100 times the mass of the sun, that form far from bright star clusters, their commonly assumed birthplaces. DoSS studies of the craters on the jovian moons Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto indicate that the icy surface of Europa is very young, compared to the others.

Using spacecraft and telescopes, the Boulder staff make observations that lead to new theories on the formation of stars, planets, and moons. Advanced computers enable models to numerically simulate those theories, a process that sometimes takes days, or even weeks, to complete.

Staff also participate on space missions, including Galileo; Cassini; Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous (NEAR); Deep Space 1; Mercury Surface, Space Environ-ment, Geochemistry, and Ranging (MESSENGER); Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO); Solar-B; Rosetta; and suborbital sounding rockets.

"In the coming years, we expect to increase our impact in the space and earth sciences," says Dr. Alan Stern, director of DoSS and one of the two founding scientists. Dr. Robin Canup serves as assistant director. Research is funded by NASA, the National Science Foundation, internal research, and other sources.

DoSS scientists share much of their expertise with the national and international media on various space topics, and have appeared in award-winning scientific television documentaries.

For more information about SwRI's Boulder office, contact Maria Martinez, Communications Department, Southwest Research Institute, P.O. Drawer 28510, San Antonio, Texas, 78228-0510, Phone (210) 522-3305, Fax (210) 522-3547.

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