Sunday, September 17, 2017

Uncovering the Mysteries of the Solar System: Simone Marchi Awarded 2017 Paolo Farinella Prize

Image credit: NASA

Understanding the collisions and impacts of planetary bodies could greatly improve our knowledge about the evolution of our solar system. One of the scientists who has made great scientific contribution in this field of research is Dr. Simone Marchi, who will receive the 2017 Farinella Prize.

The annual Paolo Farinella Prize is supported by several Italian institutions, including the University of Pisa, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), Instituto Nazionale di Astrofisica (INAF), and the “Nello Carrara” Institute of Applied Physics-Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche (IFAC-CNR). It honors the memory of Paolo Farinella (1953–2000), an Italian planetary scientist who studied asteroids and small bodies, conducting essential research in this field. The prize is awarded to scientists who made significant contributions to planetary sciences, space geodesy, fundamental physics, science popularization, security in space, and also weapons control and disarmament.

This year, the Farinella Prize was devoted to planetary sciences, in particular to studies on the physics and dynamics of the solar system’s inner planets as well as their satellites. Marchi, who is a senior research scientist in the Space Science and Engineering Division of Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), will receive the award for his research on the impact history and evolution of the inner solar system.

“I feel particularly honored for receiving this prize as I personally knew Paolo Farinella. I met him during my last year at Pisa University and he was one of my master thesis advisors. He was a brilliant scientist. He was also very friendly and always ready to help,” Marchi told

Marchi studies the formation of the terrestrial planets and the moon, the geology of asteroids and the terrestrial planets, spectroscopy and dynamics of minor bodies, and meteorites. Recently, he investigated the dwarf planet Ceres and the earliest collision history of the Earth and moon.

Simone Marchi, Ph.D.; Senior Research Scientist, SwRI Planetary Science Directorate. Image courtesy of Southwest Research Institute
Simone Marchi, Ph.D.; Senior Research Scientist, SwRI Planetary Science Directorate. Image courtesy of Southwest Research Institute

Marchi emphasizes how challenging is research in these fields.

“The intriguing and challenging aspect of my research is that I go after events that took place eons ago. Although we have sophisticated tools in our bag of tricks, like spacecraft, it is still very challenging to learn about the infancy of our solar system and to explore worlds that are hundred of millions of miles away,” he noted.

Dwarf planets like Ceres and other minor bodies are crucial for our understanding of formation and evolution of the solar system. Given the fact that they are leftovers of the formation of larger planetary bodies, they could preserve some pristine traits that can inform us about the conditions in the early solar system.

Although our knowledge about the solar system improves, there are still many unanswered questions, which, according to Marchi, require new and more sophisticated exploration capabilities.

“Space missions are an essential tool. For instance, we still do not have a good understanding of the composition of small bodies and how and where they formed. To answer these questions, I would like to see more sample-and-return or in-situ analyses. I would like to land and sample interesting asteroids and comets,” Marchi said.

Marchi will receive the Paolo Farinella Prize during the international European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2017 taking place September 17-22 in Riga, Latvia. He will also give a Prize lecture at the “EPSC awards special session”.

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