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April 30, 2003


(From Lori Stiles, UA News Services, 520-621-1877)

University of Arizona Professor H. Jay Melosh of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory (LPL) has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences, one of the most prestigious honors in American science.

The Academy, chartered in 1863 by President Abraham Lincoln to guide public action in science, yesterday elected 72 new members and 18 foreign associates from 11 countries in recognition of their distinguished and continuing achievements in original research.

"Jay Melosh literally wrote the book on impact cratering," said Michael Drake, head of the LPL and UA planetary sciences department. "His 1989 book made us all aware of the importance of extraterrestrial impacts in shaping our Earth. The book ("Impact Cratering: A Geologic Process," Oxford University Press) is still the universal reference used by all scholars."

Contact Information

H. Jay Melosh

Michael Drake

Melosh said he learned of his election at 8 a.m. yesterday, when he logged on his computer to check for an important e-mail message.

He said he didn't expect this one, from UA Regents' Professor and NAS member J. Randy Jokipii, informing him of his election to the Academy.

About an hour later, Melosh said, Jokipii reached him by phone from a cab near a Washington, D.C., airport.

"Randy says he tried to get me out of bed with news at 7 a.m. (he would not have!), but had to settle for e-mail because my home number in the LPL phone listings is incorrect."

"I've been getting lots of phone calls, lots of e-mails. It is really amazing," Melosh said. "I'm somewhat surprised. I figure I'd never be elected because the science I do is sometimes controversial. It tends to rock the boat."

Melosh said he is reluctant to compare or rank the honors he has been given, but admits that "this one is certainly way up there."

"Jay's work has helped us understand the origin of the Moon in a giant impact of a Mars-sized object with the growing Earth. Jay figured out how we get meteorites from the Moon and Mars, helping us understand that we had 'free' space missions courtesy of mother nature," Drake said.

"He has shown how impacts into the ocean cannot cause havoc the way depicted in movies like Deep Impact - hint: giant waves break way out to sea and dissipate their destructive energy by the time they reach shore.

"He has shown how the dinosaurs and most species on Earth perished 65 million years ago when a large impact into what is now Mexico ejected material up through the atmosphere. This material reentered the atmosphere like ballistic missiles, heating the atmosphere to hotter than a conventional oven can achieve, thereby burning plants, animals, and trees globally," Drake said.

"Jay has shown how enormous landslides travel tens of miles down very shallow slopes. I could go on, but his contributions to knowledge are extraordinary.

"Add to this scholarship the fact that he is an extraordinary teacher, and he represents everything the State of Arizona would want in a faculty member.

"He is also precisely the type of faculty member who could be recruited by another university because of the short-sighted budgetary recommendations of the legislature these past few years," Drake said. "The erosion of the university's budget must be reversed if we are to retain scholars of the caliber of Jay Melosh."

Melosh graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor of arts degree in physics from Princeton University in 1969, and earned his doctorate in physics and geology from Caltech in 1973. He joined the UA faculty in 1982, where he has supervised 12 doctoral students in planetary sciences.

Melosh is author or co-author of more than 150 scientific papers and has served on numerous national and international committees and panels that guide scientific planning, publications, facilities, and awards in his discipline. His numerous awards and fellowships most recently include the Barringer Medal of the Meteoritical Society (1999), Asteroid 8216 "Melosh" approved by the International Astronomical Union (2000), the Gilbert Medal of the Geological Society of America (2001), and Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2001).

Melosh is on the 12-member science team for Deep Impact, a $279 million robotic mission that will become the first to penetrate the surface of a comet when it smashes its camera-carrying copper probe into Comet Tempel 1 on July 4, 2005.

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