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Planetary Astronomer Heidi B. Hammel, PhD, Named to ARCS Foundation Alumni Hall of Fame

Posted on Tuesday, February 7, 2023

ARCS recognizes alum for significant contributions to astronomy that enhanced our understanding of planetary science and the frontier of space.

LaGrange, Georgia (February 7, 2023) - At the January National Board Meeting, ARCS® Foundation Inc. announced planetary astronomer Heidi B. Hammel, PhD, is the 2023 inductee into the prestigious ARCS Alumni Hall of Fame.

Hall of Fame inductees are ARCS Scholar Alumni who have made outstanding contributions to the advancement of science in innovation, discovery, economic impact, the development of future scientists, and enhancement of US scientific superiority.

Dr. Hammel is currently the Vice President for Science for the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA). AURA operates world-class astronomical observatories, including the Hubble Space Telescope and James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) for NASA and the National Science Foundation's NOIRLab and National Solar Observatory. 

She is also a Senior Research Scientist for the Space Science Institute and serves as Vice President of The Planetary Society, which advocates for advancing space science and planetary defense.

ARCS Foundation has recognized Dr. Hammel for her expertise in planetary science and her work with both the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescopes.

A go-to expert on Neptune and Uranus, Dr. Hammel led the team that monitored the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9's collision with Jupiter in 1994, which caused an impact site that was larger than Earth. She saw the potential for similar random planetary destruction as a danger to Earth, and her team began researching every aspect of the incident.

"By combining the observations of the collisions with Hubble, and the models that existed at that time, we were able to find a much more realistic understanding of how these collisions take place in an atmosphere, where the energy is deposited, and what the patterns of devastation on the Earth would be," she said. 

Nearly 20 years later, the foundational research that began with Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 would lead NASA to execute the DART (Double Asteroid Redirection Test) mission, the first-ever mission dedicated to investigating and testing asteroid deflection by changing an asteroid's motion in space. It was a resounding success. 

Dr. Hammel's experience with the Hubble Telescope led to her appointment as an Interdisciplinary Scientist for JWST, where she has served for more than 20 years. In the role, she received 100 hours of guaranteed research time. Dr. Hammel did something unprecedented with her time, though. "I gave it all away to younger people in my community," she said. "I just encouraged them to go forth and figure out what we can do with this telescope. Go and find what the most exciting science in the solar system will be." Since JWST’s successful launch in 2021, her team has generated remarkable observations of the Solar System with the new telescope.

An avid proponent of lifelong learning and opportunities for all, Dr. Hammel is also a skilled science communicator. She received the Public Understanding of Science Award from the Exploratorium in San Francisco in 1998. In 2002, she received the Carl Sagan Medal from the American Astronomical Society's Division for Planetary Sciences for outstanding communication to the general public. "I love to talk to different communities about what we do in astronomy and what a scientist does in general," she said. "I want to excite people about science because it's not about memorizing facts; science is about discovery." 

Dr. Hammel received her ARCS Scholar award in 1985 while attending the University of Hawai'i at Manoa to complete a PhD in physics and astronomy. "When I was a young student in physics, women were very much a minority, and I often felt inadequate. The recognition provided by ARCS Foundation was a wonderful boost – it gave me confidence that I belonged in science and encouraged me to persevere."

Upon receiving this recognition for the Hall of Fame, Dr. Hammel said, "It is an incredible honor to be recognized by ARCS as part of this group of people who have all made significant contributions to the world… I think it's important for us to recognize scholarship in whatever form it takes. I'm really excited and thankful for this honor."

"Dr. Hammel has made a truly incredible impact on how we understand space and approach planetary research," said ARCS National President Caron Ogg. "We are thrilled to welcome her into the distinguished ARCS Alumni Hall of Fame."

As an ARCS Alumni Hall of Fame member, Dr. Hammel joins the company of 14 other inductees.


About ARCS® Foundation: ARCS Foundation is a national nonprofit volunteer women's organization that promotes US competitiveness by providing financial awards to academically outstanding US citizens studying to complete degrees in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM), and health disciplines at 50 of the nation's leading research universities. The organization has awarded more than $131 million to more than 11,500 scholars since 1958. ARCS Foundation Scholars have produced thousands of research publications and patents, secured billions in grant funding, started science-related companies, and played a significant role in teaching and mentoring young people in the STEM pipeline. More information is available at

2023 ARCS Alumni Hall of Fame Dr. Heidi B. Hammel