Cristina Dalle Ore
Cristina is one astronomer who’s gone to the dark side. In particular, she studies the organic compounds known as tholins – blackish compounds that form when ultraviolet light from the Sun impinges on water, ice, methane, and nitrogen. This dark, low-temperature material covers many of the moons and other small bodies of the outer solar system, and understanding how it was formed and where it is found could offer us important clues to life’s origin.
Cristina doesn’t have to visit these cold worlds to study their tholins. Instead, she matches spectroscopic observations to computer-generated spectra. To do this, she varies the amount of each of the tholin ingredients, as well as the grain size of the compounds, in making the computer-generated spectra that she then matches with the telescopic observations. This is an esoteric kind of detective work that is giving insight into a class of organic materials that might be implicated in the early chemistry that led to life.