AAS Division For Planetary Sciences Announces 2023 Prize Winners

The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) has named its prize winners for 2023.

Dr. William B. McKinnon is awarded the 2023 Kuiper Prize for outstanding contributions to planetary science for proposing a series of novel and important ideas which, having been confirmed, profoundly changed our view of geophysical processes in the solar system. Among his ideas he developed:  the leading theory of multi- ringed basin formation,  the ring-tectonic model, which was spectacularly verified by the Grail mission’s gravity observations of the lunar Orientale basin; that the arcuate tectonic structures within Galileo Regio on Ganymede form a ring system similar to (but larger than) the Valhalla system on Callisto; that an impact on Pluto formed its moon Charon: that Cassini gravity data, interpreted by others to imply either a regional subsurface sea or global ocean on Enceladus requires the latter; and that the physical properties of Arrokoth, visited by New Horizons, implies formation by gravitational collapse rather than hierarchical accretion thereby confirming a key prediction of pebble accretion.  Dr. McKinnon has constructed the most comprehensive and physically rigorous models of the interiors of Pluto and Triton and showed how Pluto’s Sputnik Planum could be formed by convective overturn in nitrogen-rich ice.  Some examples of Dr McKinnon’s leadership and service to the planetary science community include being a Past Chair of the DPS and president of the Planetary Sciences section of the AGU, a member of the steering committee for the most recent Decadal Survey in Planetary Science and Astrobiology, a past chair of OPAG, a past chair of the National Academy CAPS committee and a member of numerous mission teams including, New Horizons mission team, the RIME Radar for JUICE, and MASPEX, REASON Radar, and Gravity Science for the Europa Clipper mission. 

Dr. Amy Simon is awarded the 2023 Alexander Prize for a mid-career scientist who has made and continues to make outstanding contributions that have significantly advanced our knowledge of planetary systems, including our solar system.  Her research spans the breadth from the smallest bodies to the most giant planets. Recent accomplishments include work on asteroid Bennu (target of the OSIRIX-REx mission), which revealed evidence that organic and carbonate materials are widely distributed (“ubiquitous”) across the surface and particularly strong in certain boulders and the creation of the Hubble Space Telescope Outer Planets Atmospheres Legacy Program (OPAL), which established annual imaging of all four of our Solar System’s giant planets – in perpetuity for the rest of Hubble’s lifetime. Dr. Simon served on the the Steering Committee of the Planetary Science Decadal Survey twice. She has taken leadership roles in many planetary missions past (Landsat, Cassini, Galileo), present (OSIRIS-REx), and future (Lucy, JUICE).  Her other leadership activities include a large number of advisory and scientific committees, as well as participation in many conference organizing committees. Most recently she served on the program committee for the 2022 “Workshop on In Situ Exploration of the Giant Planets II” and co-led the Ice Giant Mission Study for NASA. She has served on the DPS Committee and devoted 6 years to the AAS Committee on Status of Women. Dr. Simon has also served on the Icarus Editorial Board, and has served as a Guest Editor for Planetary and Space Science as well as Philosophical Transactions A.

Dr. Quanzhi Ye is awarded the 2023 Urey Prize which recognizes and encourages outstanding achievements in planetary science by an early-career scientist for his contribution to understanding of small bodies in the inner solar system by exploring the boundary between active and inactive objects. Dr. Ye has been contributing research-grade solar system observations to the scientific community since he was in high school.  In recent years, it has become increasingly obvious that many small bodies in our solar system cannot be given the binary label “comet” or “asteroid,” but instead are at different places in a continuum of formational and evolutionary processes. Dr. Ye distinguished himself via numerical modeling that ties meteor showers to specific comets and asteroids. This can reveal past activity in ways not otherwise possible. He has subsequently diversified his research to lead both imaging and spectroscopic studies, with recent high-profile results including the highest quality spectrum of 1I/‘Oumuamua and Hubble observations of the extremely close approach to Earth of (3200) Phaethon. Dr. Ye has first-authored 31 peer-reviewed papers.  He has also served as an international ambassador for Astronomy through his organization of the Lulin Sky Survey in Taiwan while a student at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou in mainland China, his co-translation of astronomy books into Chinese, and maintaining an active media and outreach presence in both English and Chinese.

Dr. Dale Cruikshank has been awarded the 2023 Masursky Prize for outstanding service to the planetary science community.  Dr Cruikshank worked tirelessly to document and preserve DPS history. His example and advocacy for preserving the DPS history led to the creation of the post of DPS historian where he served as the first historian of the DPS until 2020.  He has also worked to build international bridges between scientists through outreach to USSR scientist during the cold war and active participation in the IAU (serving as President for IAU Commission 16).  He was Associate Editor of Icarus and a member of multiple decadal studies in both Planetary Science and Astronomy.

Dr. Tracy Becker is awarded the 2023 Sagan medal for outstanding communication by an active planetary scientist to the general public for her continued innovative outreach to underserved audiences including Spanish speaking audiences, hearing- and visually impaired students.  Her activities have shown leadership in developing sustainable outreach programs by co-creating and organizing Astronomy on Tap San Antonio where she recruited, trained, and mentored colleagues in science communication.  Her outreach activities include numerous news articles, press releases, media appearances, and outreach programs.

Marina Koren is the recipient of the 2023 Jonathan Eberhart Planetary Sciences Journalism Award for distinguished popular writing on planetary sciences for the article “The Existential Wonder of Space” published in The Atlantic. The article centers around Saturn’s moon Titan and the NASA New Frontiers Dragonfly Mission. Using Titan’s science and exploration history, the article follows a narrative arc about the sometimes-frustrating slowness of bringing an idea to fruition. Written for a general audience, it is the kind of writing that makes the reader want to know more about planetary science and to relate that to things in their own life that take time to mature. 

“It is a real pleasure to award these prizes to such deserving individuals,” adds DPS Chair Catherine Neish. “I look forward to celebrating their accomplishments during the DPS-EPSC meeting this fall!”

The 2023 DPS prizes will be presented at the 55th annual meeting of the Division for Planetary Sciences, which will take place in San Antonio, Texas and online from 1 to 6 October 2023.


Dr. Theodore Kareta, DPS Press Officer, +1 (617) 671-5906, [email protected]

Prof. Catherine Neish, DPS Chair, [email protected]

More information about DPS prizes: https://dps.aas.org/prizes

55th annual DPS meeting, 1-6 October 2023: https://aas.org/meetings/dps55

The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS), founded in 1968, is the largest special-interest Division of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Members of the DPS study the bodies of our own solar system, from planets and moons to comets and asteroids, and all other solar-system objects and processes. With the discovery that planets exist around other stars, the DPS has expanded its scope to include the study of extrasolar planetary systems as well.

The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe as a diverse and inclusive astronomical community, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, science advocacy, education and outreach, and training and professional development.