Alloa scientist working for NASA to deliver talk at University

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The planet Saturn

A Scots-born planetary scientist and aerospace engineer – working on NASA’s next mission to Saturn’s moon Titan – will deliver a special lecture at the University of Stirling.

Dr Ralph Lorenz will present a public lecture, ‘From Scotland to Saturn: Exploring planets and moons with spacecraft and drones’, to staff, students and members of the public – including local schoolchildren – on Friday 17 January.

Dr Lorenz, who was born in Lanark and grew up in Alloa, said: “Saturn's giant moon Titan is remarkably Earth-like, with a landscape of vast dunefields, river channels and lakes under a smoggy sky punctuated by methane downpours.

“Titan serves as a frigid laboratory in which the same processes that shape our own planet can be seen in action under exotic conditions. It has a rich inventory of complex organic molecules that may provide clues how the building blocks of life are assembled.

“During this lecture, I will review findings from the epic Cassini-Huygens mission to Saturn, between 2004 and 2017, and discuss prospects for future exploration – with NASA having recently announced the Dragonfly mission, led by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. Dragonfly – which will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034 – is an octocopter lander, able to repeatedly take off and fly tens of kilometres in Titan's dense atmosphere and low gravity to sample the surface in a wide range of geological settings.”

The public lecture has been organised by Dr Axel Hagermann, of Stirling’s Planetary Ices Laboratory, which conducts cutting-edge research and contributes to major international space missions.

Dr Hagermann said: “Over the many years that I’ve had the privilege of working with Ralph, he has frequently mentioned his Scottish roots. I really look forward to his lecture here in Stirling because he is an incredibly engaging speaker who has made many significant contributions to space science.”

Dr Lorenz has a special connection to the local area, having spent part of his childhood in Alloa. He worked as an engineer for the European Space Agency on the design of the Huygens probe to Titan, and then as a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in the United States.

His activities have centred on exploring planetary landscapes and weather, especially on Mars and Titan. He has made several television appearances including Horizon, and Wonders of the Solar System with Brian Cox. He is author or co-author of several books including 'Lifting Titan’s Veil’, 'Spinning Flight', and 'Space Systems Failures'. His recent article 'Engineers are Dogs: Scientists are Cats' ruminates on the differences between these technical disciplines.

The event will take place in the University’s Court Room at 5pm on Friday 17 January. Entry is free of charge – to book your place register here.