Karen Meech: Our Pale Blue Dot

Without water, life as we know it would be impossible. Where does Earth’s water come from, and how did it get here?

Karen Meech specializes in comets and astrobiology, and is particularly interested in how Earth obtained the key ingredients for life: water and organics. Earth formed close enough to the Sun that it would have been hard to capture water. Comets are thought to contribute some, but not all, of the water in Earth’s oceans, and contain organic matter essential to life on Earth.

At NASA’s Astrobiology Institute (NAI) at UH, Meech heads a team of scientists to find answers to the biggest of the big questions: How were the ingredients for life made in space? How are habitable worlds created? What defines a habitable world? And does life exist elsewhere in our Solar System, and beyond?

NASA EPOXI Mission: a close-up view of Comet Hartley 2 on November 2, 2010

Meech uses the telescopes on Maunakea and Haleakala to study comets as icy leftovers of the birth of our solar system, giving us the chemical and dynamical clues of how it was formed. With comet space missions (Deep Impact, Stardust-NeXT and EPOXI) as well as a possible future mission lead by UH, Meech studies the chemical clues from an astronomical perspective. In contrast, this search also involves tracing the history of water from deep within the Earth’s mantle.

NAI researchers include geologists, geochemists, and cosmic chemists from UH School of Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) as well as astronomers from the IFA.

“No one discipline has all the answers. The answer to where water comes from requires an interdisciplinary astrobiological approach combining insight from astronomy, astrochemistry, cosmochemistry, planetary dynamics, geology and geochemistry.” — Karen Meech