Professor Stephen Lowry is based at the University of Kent’s Centre for Astrophysics and Planetary Science. He specialises in optical and infrared observations and modelling of Solar System Small Bodies, making use of both space-based and large ground-based telescope facilities. He is also involved in spacecraft exploration of these bodies. Stephen serves on the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council Solar System Research Advisory Panel, and has served on numerous international grant-review panels.
He completed his PhD in the area of cometary science at Queen's University Belfast in 2001, and from there he was a research fellow for several years in the UK and US. Before moving to the University of Kent, he was a research scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory working on physical and compositional characterisations of cometary and asteroidal bodies; he supported a number of spacecraft missions to these bodies and the development of a new comet surface sample return mission. His publications include numerous research papers in Science and Nature and other leading astronomy journals, and was lead author in a chapter in the book The Solar System Beyond Neptune. Details of his research programmes can be found here and here.
Professor Lowry's research programme focuses on observations of Small Solar System Bodies (SSSBs), with particular emphasis on Near-Earth Asteroids (NEAs), and comets, including Main Belt Comets (MBCs). This field is of particular importance as these bodies are the only surviving remnants of the formation era of our solar system, and several space missions have been launched to these bodies to help answer fundamental questions regarding their nature.
The research involves the use of large, ground-based optical and infrared telescope facilities, as well as space-based telescopes such as the Hubble Space Telescope and the Spitzer Space Infrared Telescope. Professor Lowry and his colleagues now use planetary radar facilities, including the Arecibo Observatory (Puerto Rico, USA). Analysis techniques used include: image analysis and photometry, spectroscopy, 3-D shape and spin-state modelling from optical and radar observations, and thermophysical modelling.
The group also has interest in spacecraft exploration of SSSBs. Professor Lowry is currently part of the science analysis team for the OSIRIS instrument on board the recent Rosetta comet explorer spacecraft, and has supported many other spacecraft missions by helping to characterise the target bodies, either leading up to or during the encounter phase. The group is also involved in the development of several mission concepts to visit cometary bodies.
Stephen is involved in the teaching of a number of astronomy modules; topics covered include data analysis techniques, solar system science and rocketry and human spaceflight.