Nicholson wins astronomy’s 2019 Masursky Award

By: Blaine Friedlander,  Cornell Chronicle
Mon, 06/17/2019

The American Astronomical Society (AAS) Division for Planetary Sciences will honor Cornell astronomy professor Phil Nicholson with the 2019 Harold Masursky Award, a prize for meritorious service to planetary science.

“The longtime editor of Icarus, the journal forever associated with Carl Sagan, and a distinguished researcher in his own right, Phil has had a profound impact on our understanding of the cosmos and has played a pivotal role in Cornell’s enduring reputation as a powerhouse in astronomy,” said Joe Burns, professor emeritus of astronomy and engineering. “Phil is universally regarded as a superb colleague and loyal friend, and I could not be happier for him.”

The Masursky Award will be presented this September at the joint meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) and the European Planetary Science Congress in Geneva, Switzerland.

Nicholson, deputy director of the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, for 20 years served as editor-in-chief of the scientific journal Icarus. Nicholson ushered the journal into the internet age, which boosted access, while dedicating himself to maintaining peer-review integrity.

Nicholson’s research focuses on the orbital dynamics of planetary ring systems and natural satellites, and infrared observational studies of planets, their satellites and their rings. He was a member of the Visual and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer science team on the now-completed NASA/European Space Agency’s Cassini mission to Saturn.

He has served on the Committee for Planetary and Lunar Exploration as well on other astronomy and astrophysics committees of the National Research Council; on telescope time-assignment committees for the Kuiper Airborne Observatory and the Hubble Space Telescope; and on numerous NASA proposal review committees. Nicholson has co-authored scientific and review articles on planetary ring dynamics and on the ring systems of Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

Nicholson has even been honored with his own asteroid – 7220 Philnicholson. The asteroid was discovered in August 1981 by astronomer Ted Bowell at the Anderson Mesa Station of the Lowell Observatory, and the naming citation was published in October 1998.

The Harold Masursky Award was established by the DPS to recognize and honor individuals who have rendered outstanding service to planetary science and exploration through engineering, managerial, programmatic or public service activities.

Sagan, the late Cornell professor of astronomy, won the first Masursky Award, in 1991; Burns won the prize in 1994. Sagan was editor of Icarus in the late 1960s and early 1970s; Burns was editor for nearly two decades, beginning in the late 1970s. Nicholson served as editor from 1998 through 2017.

This story also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.

   Phil Nicholson