Bibring Receives 2009 Whipple Award

Jean-Pierre Bibring received the Whipple Award at the 2009 AGU Fall Meeting, held 14–18 December in San Francisco, Calif. The award recognizes an individual who has made an outstanding contribution in the field of planetary science.


bibring_jean-pierreThe Whipple Award of the Planetary Sciences section is named for Fred Whipple. His work on comets is very well known, of course. We value this today for the quantitative approach to understanding physical phenomena, the insights into how to relate data to theoretical concepts in order to understand complex systems, and the innovative results in developing new paradigms that arise from using these approaches carefully and thoughtfully. This year’s recipient of the Whipple Award, Jean-Pierre Bibring, fits easily within each of these descriptions. He has been instrumental in making sure that instruments have flown to Mars that are capable of making the key measurements. And, when faced with observations that did not fit neatly within the previous view of the history of Mars, he managed to integrate them into a new view of that history that is now widely accepted. Jean-Pierre’s work on the composition of the Martian surface and the changes that have occurred throughout Martian history has changed our view of the history of the surface of Mars and of water on Mars. And it has provided a conceptual framework into which our upcoming observations that pertain to the potential for life to have existed can be fit. It is this approach that exemplifies the best of our discipline and shows the intellectual leadership to take the field in new and novel, yet absolutely appropriate, directions.

Bruce M. Jakosky, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado, Boulder


I could not be touched and moved more than by being honored by the prestigious community that led the building of the modern view of the solar system, with outcomes in most human activities. In a few decades of space exploration, the planetary worlds were discovered exhibiting a totally unexpected diversity, contrasting with the huge commonalities of their origin. What drives the evolution of the planets and has triggered their uniqueness, primarily that of the Earth?

Mars plays a key role in addressing these questions and deciphering the relevant processes: It has been modeled by intense internal and surface activity, while preserving the diagnostic signatures of most steps of its history, that one can thus potentially access. In particular, the coupling between imagery and hyperspectral remote sensing, with the pioneering discoveries of OMEGA/Mars Express, has enabled an in-depth revisiting of Mars’s evolution at all time scales, with a special emphasis on the role liquid water might have played. Specific minerals archive the change over time of the Mars environment, started by an early era during which Mars might have harbored habitable conditions, identified through hydrated phyllosilicates. Then Mars faced a global climatic change, likely initiated by the drop of its magnetic dynamo. Most of its atmosphere escaped, preventing the further surface stability of liquid water; the evolutionary pathways of Mars and the Earth diverged.

While shedding new light on the specifics of our own planet, these results guide the future programs of Mars exploration. They will be conducted in a new framework. The sustained process of international cooperation that we initiated for Mars at the investigative level some decades ago has contributed to paving the way for structural agreements, in particular between NASA and the European Space Agency, toward new ways of conducting the scientific space exploration of Mars and of our solar system.

Jean-Pierre Bibring, Institut d’Astrophysique Spatiale, Orsay, France