Prof. Michael E. Summers is a planetary scientist who specializes in the study of a variety of chemical and dynamical processes in planetary atmospheres. His work is primarily theoretical in nature, but he serves on several planetary and near-Earth space mission science teams in the role of science planning, design, education and public outreach activities, and in the interpretation of spacecraft observations. He has made scientific contributions to over a dozen NASA space missions that study the Earth from space shuttle and orbiting satellites and that observe other planets in our solar system using deep space robotic missions. His research concerns how planets and their atmospheres develop – although driven by common physical, chemical, and sometimes biological processes – into the diverse types of planets we find in our solar system and beyond, including planets orbiting other stars that are so different from Earth that they challenge our imaginations. Over his career, his discoveries have helped to shape the goals of NASA space missions, from space shuttle missions studying the upper atmosphere of the Earth, to deep space robotic exploration of Mars, Pluto, the moons of Jupiter, and other objects the outer solar system.
Michael’s seminal discoveries in planetary science have motivated and guided the development of NASA missions to other objects in our solar system. His research has utilized a wide range of astronomical instrumentations, including ground-based telescopes (NASA, Mt. Polamor, and Mt. Wilson), satellite observations of the Earth (from Space Shuttle, and AIM, SME, and UARS satellites), exploration of planets by the use of robotic spacecraft (e.g. NASA New Horizons, Cassini, Galileo, etc.), and intensive theoretical/computational modeling of the atmospheres of other planets. Prof. Summers’ research is highly interdisciplinary - combining astronomy, physics, chemistry, and biology, to figure out how their many complex and inter-twined influences guide the evolution of planets, and in the case of the Earth how the co-evolution of life and the atmosphere created the rich biosphere we have on Earth.