NASA Group Achievement Award for Galileo Probe Nephelometer Experiment Team NASA Group Achievement Award for Voyager Science Investigation (ISS team) National Merit Scholarship, 1968-1972
Astronomer Kathy Rages studies outer planet atmospheres, particularly those of Uranus and Neptune—two planets that are very similar. Except when they’re not.
These two denizens of the deep solar system are similar to one another in size, and both have a rocky core, an icy mantle, and an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium. But Uranus, in visible light, resembles a featureless cue ball. Neptune, on the other hand, sports a dynamic atmosphere characterized by prominent features such as the Voyager-era Great Dark Spot and its Bright Companion (now long gone, but replaced by other easily visible features).
Why the difference? Perhaps it has something to do with Uranus’s extreme axial tilt. Or maybe it’s because of the other big difference between the two planets: the fact that Uranus doesn’t seem to have any significant internal heat source, while Neptune generates almost three times as much heat internally as it gets from the Sun.
A quarter of a century has passed since Voyager last examined Uranus up-close. Late in 2007, spring came to Uranus' northern hemisphere as the sun passed over the equator for the first time since the development of telescopes with sharp enough vision to witness uranian weather. After decades of darkness, Kathy is expecting increased activity in Uranus’s atmosphere, and the long-lost answers to why it seems so unlike its outer-planet sibling.