Fran Bagenal

Planetary Space Physicist


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  • Office: SPSC-N292


I study the physics of charged particles trapped in - or influenced by - the magnetic environments of planets. I have specialized in the field magnetospheres of the planets of the outer solar system, synthesizing data analysis and theory. I have been involved in NASA missions to planetary objects including Voyager, Galileo, Deep Space 1, New Horizons and Juno. I ceased teaching in 2015 in order to focus on data from the New Horizons and Juno missions.
At Pluto the New Horizons spacecraft measured the interaction of the tenuous solar wind of the outer heliosphere with the weakly-escaping atmosphere of Pluto.
At Jupiter the Juno mission has been taking measurements of the polar environment, showing how charged particles are accelerated in the magnetosphere and precipitate into Jupiter's atmosphere and excite auroral emissions.
My career-long interest has been the production of plasma by Jupiter's volcanic moon Io and how this plasma moves through the vast magnetosphere of Jupiter.
I am also Assistant Director for Planetary Sciences at LASP.


MIT — Cambridge, MA
PhD, Earth & Planetary Sciences


Fran Bagenal studies the magnetic fields of planets, the interactions of plasmas with atmospheres, and magnetospheric processes. She has worked with plasma data from a variety of space missions, starting with the Voyager mission to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. She was on the science teams of the Galileo mission to Jupiter and the Deep Space 1 mission to Comet Borrelly. She edited Jupiter: Planet, Satellites and Magnetosphere (Cambridge University Press, 2004). She leads the plasma teams on the first two New Frontiers missions: New Horizons mission to Pluto (launched January 2006, flew past Pluto in July 2015) and Juno, a Jupiter polar orbiter (launched 2011, arrived at Jupiter in 2016).


New Horizons mission to Pluto, Juno mission to Jupiter.


SELECTED PUBLICATIONS (Total 201 refereed papers published since 1977, 29 book chapters, 12 press articles) * first author, # supervised student first author, Ph.D. Thesis: The inner magnetosphere of Jupiter and Io plasma torus, F. Bagenal, MIT Center for Space Research Technical Report CSR-T-81-3, July 1981.

1. The double tilt of Uranus, F. Bagenal, News & Views, Nature, 321, 809-810, 1986
2. Measuring the Io plasma torus, F. Bagenal, News & Views, Nature, 327, 460, 1987
3. Meanwhile on Pluto, F. Bagenal, Physics World, 2, (3), 20-21, 1989
4. Emptiest Magnetosphere, F. Bagenal, Physics World, 2, (10), 18-20, 1989
5. Introduction to the special section: Magnetospheres of the outer planets, F. Bagenal, J. Geophys. Res., 103, 19841-2, 1998
6. Saturn’s Mixed Magnetosphere, F. Bagenal, News & Views, Nature, 433, 695-6, 2005
7. A new spin on Saturn’s rotation, F. Bagenal, Science, 216, 380-381, 2007
8. NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto, F. Bagenal, [...]

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Member of the American Astronomical Society and Fellow of the American Geophysical Union.

Honors and awards

2018 Van Allen Lecture of the American Geophysical Union
2010 Boulder Faculty Assembly’s Excellence in Research Award
2006 Fellow of the American Geophysical Union
Ten NASA Group Achievement Awards for contributions to the Voyager, Galileo, Deep Space 1, New Horizons, and Juno missions.
2000, 2003 President's Faculty Excellence Award for Advancing Teaching and Learning through Technology, University of Colorado, Boulder

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