Carolyn Porco

Planet Advocate for Uranus

Prof. CAROLYN PORCO, of the University of Arizona is interested in comparing processes among the various planets of the solar system. Though she's our expert on Uranus, she's really interested in rings (and other similar processes) in all the planets of the solar system. A principal member of the Voyager spacecraft Imaging Team, she is delighted to be part of the first human generation to be researching the outer solar system. A self-avowed "e-mail fanatic" (see the first program) she's extremely interested in the process of involving students in research.

In answer to the question, What made me want to become an astronomer anyway? Prof. Porco says:

I actually became interested in astronomy through an interest in religion and Eastern philosophy. I was at a very questioning stage in my early teen years, thirteen or fourteen, I was going to a parochial school, Catholic school, I was having a lot of religious concepts more or less shoved at me, and I was supposed, of course, to accept them unquestioningly... I just started to think about religion in general, about philosophy, I started to read existentialism and the whole thing ...and along with this internal questioning I found myself one evening ...waiting for the bus to go home, this is in the Bronx ...and I am waiting at the bus station and it's bedlam, it's rush hour, it was dark, it was a Fall or Winter evening, there are cars and people rushing everywhere and I just, you know, looked up and I saw a very bright object, I don't know if it was Jupiter or if it was Sirius, but it was a very bright object, and I just started to mull about this, and think about, you know, what was out there. And so my thinking went from being very internally-oriented to being more externally-oriented, and I started to read about planets and stars and galaxies and... and what the universe contained as a whole.

...I also had a friend who was going through a similar thing, she had got a telescope for Christmas, and she and I went to the top of her roof with the telescope and we peered through it, and I don't remember if it was Jupiter or Saturn, actually, that we first saw, but you would have thought we discovered it, it was so exciting... we hopped up and down and hooted and hollered it was just one of those wonderful moments, kind of a communion with the universe. So I came to the study of astronomy actually starting on more or less a religious quest, and then it got diverted into a real interest in what was out there and how I fit into things.