Jim joined The Planetary Society's Board of Directors in 2005 and was President of the Board from 2008-2020. He is an author, public speaker, and occasional science blogger for the Society and sometimes The Huffington Post, and his books like Postcards from Mars, Moon 3-D, Mars 3-D, The Space Book, and The Interstellar Age have helped to enable glorious visual tours of the solar system. His newest book (2020) is Hubble Legacy, a richly-illustrated history and celebration of 30 years of achievements and discoveries from the Hubble Space Telescope.
Jim's scientific studies primarily focus on the geology, chemistry, and mineralogy of planets, moons, asteroids, and comets using data obtained from telescopes, laboratory studies, and spacecraft missions. He was the lead scientist for the Pancam color imaging system on the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, is the Deputy Principal Investigator for the Mastcam color imaging system on the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity, is the Principal Investigator for the Mastcam-Z imaging system on the NASA Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, and is the Deputy Principal Investigator of the NASA Psyche asteroid mission. He has also been actively or previously involved as a science team member of the NASA Near-Earth Asteroid Rendezvous, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Odyssey, Comet Nucleus Tour, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, and Lucy missions, and the ESA Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission. He has also been an active observer using the Hubble Space Telescope.
Jim was the science team liaison for The Planetary Society's Red Rover Goes to Mars student program and the MarsDial education and outreach project on the Spirit and Opportunity rovers. He is a member of the American Astronomical Society, the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Geological Society of America, and the American Geophysical Union. In 1999 the IAU honored Jim's contributions to planetary science by naming asteroid 8146 Jimbell after him, and in 2011 the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society awarded him their Carl Sagan Medal, "for excellence in public communication of planetary science." Receiving the Sagan Medal was particularly rewarding since Carl Sagan, co-founder of the Society, was one of Jim’s heroes and mentors when he was young.
Jim received his B.S. from Caltech in 1987 and his Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii in 1992, performing research on Mars surface mineralogy and climate variations using infrared and optical telescopes at Mauna Kea Observatory. He was a National Research Council postdoctoral research fellow at NASA's Ames Research Center and then a faculty member in the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University before going to ASU in 2011. Jim joined The Planetary Society as a high school student back in 1980 when it formed, dropped out for a few years in college (when he could only afford rice and Top Ramen), and then came back to join this happy band of planetary travelers for good in grad school.
More details about Jim's background, books, magazine articles, blogs, and professional scientific writing can be found on his website.
Learn how Pathfinder set the stage for Mars sample return.
After a more-than-four-year adventure, the flight Mars 2020 rover Mastcam-Z cameras have been fully assembled!
Just this past week, assembly of the Mastcam-Z EQM was completed, and we saw for the first time what one of our Mars zoom cameras would really look like.
Latest Planetary Radio Appearances
Discovering Mars is the new chronicle of humanity’s long relationship with the Red Planet, assembled by space historian William Sheehan and Mars explorer Jim Bell.
Bill Nye helps us welcome the Planetary Society’s new president who also leads a new Moon mission, while China’s lunar sample return spacecraft is headed home.
The leader of the Mastcam-Z team talks about how the best cameras ever on the surface of Mars will help us explore a region that could once have supported life.