The Woman Behind The Discovery Of An Alien Ocean

Margaret Kivelson has been uncovering the outer solar system’s secrets for forty years. 

Voyager 1 took this photo of Jupiter and two of its satellites (Io, left, and Europa) on Feb. 13, 1979. (Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images)
UIG via Getty Images

In December 1996, the spacecraft Galileo flew by Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter. But the data was like nothing Margaret Kivelson and her team of physicists had ever expected. The readings beamed back to Earth suggested a magnetic field emanating from the moon, but Europa should not have a magnetic field. This was the most significant of a series of “wonderful” surprises from the Jovian moons.

Dr. Kivelson’s instrument was never supposed to change the course of space exploration, writes The New York Times, but it did. Kivelson and her team later proved that they had discovered the first subsurface, saltwater ocean on an alien world.

Dr. Kivelson is turning 90 this month. She’s a professor emerita of space physics at the University of California, Los Angeles, and for forty years, she has been an active part of almost every major NASA voyage beyond the asteroid belt.

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