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Eckerd professor wins $1-million to study distant moons

ST. PETERSBURG — Earthly logic does not seem to apply on other worlds, but now an Eckerd chemistry professor will have a chance to see what's really happening out there.

Reggie Hudson has received more than $1-million in research grants from NASA to study extreme environments on other worlds.

One grant will enable Hudson to study Europa, one of the four large moons around Jupiter. Temperatures on Europa are lower than anywhere on Earth, and it is covered in ice.

It has hydrogen peroxide and sulfuric acid in its atmosphere, however, and that suggests that some form of chemical change is happening. But it's happening in conditions where nothing should be going on, Hudson said.

Another grant gives Hudson a chance to study Titan, the largest moon around Saturn. Titan, even colder than Europa, is the only moon in the solar system whose surface can't be seen because of the thick, smoggy atmosphere.

"This is the London fog of the planets," Hudson said.

It is only in the past two or three years that a NASA probe has managed to penetrate the atmosphere. The probe found nitrogen and hydrocarbons. The mystery is how those things are reacting, Hudson said.

"It shouldn't be happening," he said. The goal is to unravel what's happening in Titan's atmosphere.

The third grant will give Hudson a chance to look at meteorites. Meteorites have a lot of organic material inside, Hudson said. The question is, how did it get inside a rock? And how are some of those organic molecules made in the cold and low pressure of space?

Much of the work will be done at the Goddard Space Center, just outside Washington, D.C., in Maryland.

Hudson said he never expected to get three grants.

"For grant No. 1, my reaction was 'Great!' or something similar," he said. "For grant No. 2, my reaction was 'Whoa!' because I didn't think I would get that one. ... For grant No. 3, my reaction was ... 'There are only 24 hours in a day and I have only two hands.' "

That will give Eckerd students a chance to help. Two will assist Hudson this summer.

Other students will benefit as Hudson brings his knowledge and experience back to the classroom.

Hudson, a North Carolina native, earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics and chemistry from Pfeiffer College in Misenheimer, N.C., and his Ph.D. from the University of Tennessee.

Since coming to Eckerd College in 1978 he has done research in conjunction with scientists at University College London and at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. His main research involves cometary and interstellar chemistry, particularly the influence of high-energy radiation on cometary surfaces, icy satellites of the outer planets, and interstellar matter.

He teaches the junior-year physical chemistry courses at Eckerd, freshman chemistry courses, and Eckerd's astronomy and astrobiology courses.

Eckerd professor wins $1-million to study distant moons 05/06/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 9, 2008 4:52pm]
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