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New Mexico State University graduate student receives three-year NASA fellowship

Carrie Anderson, a New Mexico State University graduate student in astronomy from Phoenix, Ariz., was one of 10 students nationwide to receive the Harriet G. Jenkins Predoctoral Fellowship, a three-year NASA fellowship geared toward minority graduate students in fields relevant to NASA.

New Mexico State University graduate student Carrie Anderson has been awarded a three-year NASA fellowship to begin in August (NMSU photo by Michael Kiernan).

The fellowship will begin in August and will provide Anderson with a stipend of $16,000 each year. It will also pay for her graduate tuition and provide a $4,000 stipend for a 10-week research experience during the summer months.

Anderson, a second-year graduate student, will use the funds to study Titan, Saturn's largest moon. She will be researching Titan along with Nancy Chanover, a college assistant professor of astronomy and current Tombaugh scholar at New Mexico State.

"We're hoping to improve our understanding of Titan's thick haze and study how the atmosphere interacts with the surface," Chanover said.

Titan is the only moon in the Solar System with a sizeable atmosphere. It is surrounded by a thick, cloudy atmosphere, mostly made up of nitrogen, which has kept its surface properties a mystery.

Anderson and Chanover's research will tie in to NASA's Cassini Mission, which will send the Huygens probe into Titan's atmosphere in 2004.

The Cassini spacecraft was launched in October 1997. The goals of the mission include obtaining a better understanding of Saturn, its rings and Titan, along with its other moons. The probe is scheduled to be released from the Cassini spacecraft Nov. 6, 2004, and enter Titan's atmosphere Nov. 27.

Anderson said her research will yield new information about Titan's surface that can be folded into the Cassini/Huygens results and aid in the interpretation of the measurements.

"Their goals are broader, but our research is certainly related," Chanover said.

Anderson's fascination with planetary atmospheres began when she was an undergraduate in physics and astronomy at Arizona State University and participated in a 10-week internship focusing on Mercury's exosphere, the outermost portion of the planet's atmosphere.

"After that experience, I just knew that I belonged in planetary astronomy, with my focus on planetary atmospheres," Anderson said.