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American Astronomical Society Announces First Class of AAS Fellows, Including three from the SETI Institute

American Astronomical Society Announces First Class of AAS Fellows, Including three from the SETI Institute

Jill Tarter, Andrew Fraknoi, and Melissa McGrath
Jill Tarter, Andrew Fraknoi, and Melissa McGrath.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) announced its first class of AAS Fellows, including three from the SETI Institute: Jill Tarter, SETI Institute co-founder and Trustee, Andrew Fraknoi, SETI Institute Trustee and Melissa McGrath, SETI Institute Astronomer.

AAS’s mission is to “enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe,” and its membership includes members of the astronomy community who are actively involved in advancing astronomy or a related branch of science.

Jill Tarter is the co-founder of the SETI Institute, Chair Emeritus for SETI at the SETI Institute and serves on the SETI Institute’s Board of Trustees and Science Advisory Board. Tarter is a pioneer, both in advancing SETI science as well as the role of women in science. She has earned wide recognition in the scientific community and beyond for her work. She is deeply involved in the education of future citizens and scientists and may be familiar to people as portrayed by Jodie Foster in the movie Contact.

“This is a special honor because, in its announcement, the AAS highlighted the contributions of Margaret Burbidge, a member of this inaugural class of Fellows,” said Tarter. “Prof. Burbidge has long been one of my heroes; with quiet determination, she opened up the mountain top observatories to women astronomers.”

Andrew Fraknoi retired in 2017 as the Chair of the Astronomy Department at Foothill College and has served on the SETI Institute's Board of Trustees since its inception in 1984. Fraknoi was named Professor of the Year for the state of California in 2007 and served as Executive Director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for 14 years. Fraknoi continues to teach, moderate the popular Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures series and write, both educational and science fiction books.

"I am so honored to be in the inaugural class of AAS Fellows," said Fraknoi. "Especially in the company of renowned scientists like Jill Tarter, 2016 Drake Award winner William Borucki, Nobel Laureates Adam Riess and John Mather, and many other people I have admired over the years.  And it's wonderful that the Society recognized work in not just astronomical research, but also education and outreach in selecting the Fellows."

Melissa McGrath began her career at the Space Telescope Science Institute, then moved on to NASA, where she served in various positions at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and NASA Headquarters. Her expertise includes planetary and satellite atmospheres and magnetospheres. In particular, McGrath has been interested in imaging and spectroscopic studies of Jupiter's Galilean satellites. At the SETI Institute, McGrath has worked on an instrument on the ESA JUICE mission to Ganymede and two proposed instruments for NASA's Europa Clipper mission. 

"It has been gratifying to work with the AAS throughout my career as a professional astronomer,” said McGrath. “What an honor to be recognized in the inaugural group of AAS Fellows!”

The AAS Board of Trustees designated this initial group of more than 200 Legacy Fellows in recognition of their research, contributions to astronomical techniques or instrumentation, contributions to education and public outreach, and for noteworthy service to astronomy and AAS. In the future, there will be an annual call for nominations of new AAS Fellows. Full details are available from AAS.

Congratulations to Jill, Andrew and Melissa!

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