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PSI’s Henry Throop Named 2017 Sagan Medal Winner

June 2, 2017

Tucson, Ariz. -- Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist Henry Throop has been awarded a 2017 Carl Sagan Medal for excellence in public communication by the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society. 

Throop has given more than 200 presentations across the developing world at schools, science festivals, planetariums, and community centers. He has brought his telescopes for night sky observing across the world, from rural African villages to Indian megacities. 

The Sagan Medal citation says, “The DPS awards the Carl Sagan Medal for excellence in public communication by an active planetary scientist to Henry B. Throop (Planetary Science Institute) for his efforts to kindle interest in worlds beyond Earth throughout the developing world. Dr. Throop’s presentations in South Africa, India, Namibia, Botswana, Nepal, and Mexico reach audiences who might otherwise not be exposed to planetary science. He closely collaborates with teachers and works with a diverse group of students and the public to stimulate their curiosity and show them how they can explore the world around them. With his engaging personality and genuine interest in interacting with students and teachers in far-flung places, Dr. Throop presents a positive face for science using planetary exploration as a driver.” 

PSI Senior Scientist David Grinspoon, who nominated Throop, said, “One thing that really distinguishes Henry, and makes him especially worthy of this award, is that he has put vast amounts of creativity and energy into education and outreach activities in other countries where many students have not had the kind of exposure to planetary science that they have had here in the U.S. 

“Through his articulate and winning communication style, engaging personality, and genuine interest in interacting with far-flung and nontraditional audiences Henry has acted as an effective international ambassador for our community,” Grinspoon said. “He has been a tireless, passionate and effective public communicator of astronomy and planetary science, particularly in countries where students have had little exposure to these topics. 

“I am grateful to the DPS for this honor. I’ve been lucky to be able to talk about astronomy with students and the public around the developing world,” Throop said. “Astronomy is both tangible, and mysterious: you can see the night sky from anywhere, but it’s far enough away that it’s not immediately obvious how it all works. I love bringing people along on the journey of exploration that we do, so they can understand the solar system, and answer themselves the same questions that scientists do. 

“The work that we do as scientists is only valuable if the public knows about it. I have seen over and over again that students and the public are just as curious and excited about exploring the solar system as we are as scientists. With more and countries developing strong research programs, it’s important to keep building science education and awareness across the world,” Throop said. 

Throop’s research focuses on the outer Solar System, and he has published more than 60 articles in scientific journals on topics including the rings of Saturn and Jupiter, planet formation and astrobiology.  He is a member of the science team for NASA's New Horizons mission, which in 2015 made the historic first flyby of Pluto, and is continuing onward to through the Kuiper belt. Throop was a co-discoverer of Pluto's smallest moon, Styx, in 2012. He is a frequent consultant to NASA and the National Science Foundation. 

“People in all parts of the world, across vastly different cultures, find common fascination in the exploration of the solar system. It is one way that we look back at the world we share as one of many worlds, which makes it more special,” said Mark Sykes, Director of PSI. “Henry immediately connects and relates to everyone. He conveys that sense of shared wonder and shear pleasure in the growing knowledge of where we live in the universe.” 

Throop lives in Mumbai, India. His outreach efforts in the developing world have won him other recent accolades: in April 2017, Throop was awarded the Avis Bohlen Award by the American Foreign Service Association, the association representing the US State Department. 

Throop joins other PSI scientists who have won the Sagan Award: David H. Grinspoon (2006), Larry A. Lebofsky (2000), and PSI Founder William K. Hartmann, who received the inaugural award in 1998. 

Visit http://www.psi.edu/news/throopsagan for images of Throop.

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