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Leonid MAC

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flag Peter Jenniskens,
SETI Institute, at NASA/Ames Research Center


Last updated: February 2007
E-mail: pjenniskens [at]

Brief Biographical Information:

Meteor astronomer. Principal Investigator of Leonid MAC. Research Scientist with the SETI Institute, stationed at NASA/Ames Research Center. Dr. Jenniskens coordinates the various experiments on Leonid MAC in order to achieve highest synergy.

book Author of "Meteor Showers and their Parent Comets" (2006, Cambridge University press, 790 pp.)


Research Interests (Publications):

  • The role of meteoric matter in the origin of life
  • Meteor outbursts
  • Dynamics of meteoroid streams
  • Chemical composition of meteoroids
  • Physics of meteor flight in the atmosphere
  • Meteor persistent trains
  • Observations of Diffuse Insterstellar Bands in interstellar extinction
  • Laboratory studies of astrophysical ices

Dr. Jenniskens with his slit-less meteor spectrograph "BETSY"
onboard the FISTA aircraft during the 1999 Leonid MAC mission.

Research on Leonid MAC:

High resolution optical spectroscopy of meteors and trains, and meteor imaging for studies of meteor stream dynamics.

Jenniskens studies the fate of organic matter in meteoric ablation, with support of NASA's Exobiology program. He contributes optical spectrometers to the mission, in order to measure the presence of organic matter in meteors and the physical conditions that determine if the organic matter can survive the ablation process. This work has lead to a new meteor model that shows potential gentle pathways for organic matter survival and just the right conditions for interesting atmospheric chemistry.

A special issue of the journal Astrobiology presented results from the 2001 and 2002 Leonid MAC missions: studies of the plasma temperature and temperature decay in the wake of meteors and studies of CN, OH, and H emission that probe the exogenous delivery of organics and water.

example meteor spectrum

Meteor spectrum

Dr. Jenniskens also contributes to the mission a large number of intensified video cameras to document the shower activity. Those records are used:

  • to reconstruct the meteor trajectories when interesting phenomena are observed.
  • to determine in real-time the flux of the shower for satellite impact hazard awareness.
  • to measure precisely the meteor flux for accurate determinations of shower width and peak intensity, with rates being 4-5 times higher from aircraft than from the ground.

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