Karen Meech is an astronomer who specializes in planetary astronomy, in particular the study of distant comets and their relation to the early solar system. This work is related to work that D. Jewitt is doing on the Kuiper Belt, and Toby Owen's work in collaboration with Akiva Bar-Nun (Israel) on condensation of low temperature ices. The studies of these distant comets will enable us to map out the physical, chemical and dynamical conditions in the early solar nebula at the time of planet formation.
Meech is a co-investigator on the 8th NASA Discovery mission, Deep Impact which will launch in 2004 and arrive at comet P/Tempel 1 in 2005 Mission fact sheet. The mission goals are to create an impact crater utilizing a 350-kg copper impactor, to watch the formation of the crater and to dig below the evolved surface materials of a comet and study the pristine interior. One of her roles as a science team member on this mission is to coordinate all of the ground-based observing support for the mission.
The University of Hawaii was just selected to be one of the new NASA Astrobiology Institute Lead teams, lead by PI Meech. The research centers around the theme of water, its origin, transport to earth, role in crust/mantle interactions, and life in the extreme watery environments on earth.
In addition, Meech is extremely active in the area of educational outreach. She pursues an vigorous outreach program which hosts an annual summer workshop - TOPS - (Toward Other Planetary Systems) for local and Pacific affiliated science and math high school teachers and students. This workshop is held in collaboration with Janet Mattei, director of the American Association of Variable Star Observers, Education specialist Mary Ann Kadooka, and Tim Slater (Univ. Arizona). Meech is also helping to develop an outreach program for the Faulkes Hawaii educational telescope project.
Meech is working with postdoctoral fellows, Jana Pittichova, and Yanga Fernandez. Pittichova specializes in theoretical models of cometary dust comae, and Fernandez on the properties of comet nuclei.
Meech has also run major scientific conferences, as chair of the Local Organizing Committee for the 1995 Division for Planetary Sciences Meeting held on the big island of Hawaii, and as Local chair (and committee!) for the 1999 Bioastronomy meeting held on the big island (for 200 participants). She is co-editor of the Proceedings which now may be obtained from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. She will be helping with the Bioastronomy 2004 meeting in Reykjavik Iceland, and is local co-chair of the Protostars and Planets V meeting in Hawaii in October 2005.
The first confirmed interstellar visitor to our solar system is a needle-shaped asteroid given the Hawaiian name ‘Oumuamua. Karen Meech leads the team that is learning as much about it as possible before it leaves our neighborhood, never to return.