Mary Knapp

Research Scientist

Curriculum vitae

Haystack Observatory


99 Millstone Rd.
Westford, MA


Do exoplanets have magnetic fields?  Are they like those of the solar system planets, or different?  Why does Earth have a magnetic field while Venus doesn't?  How are magnetic field properties linked with planetary properties (mass, radius, age, orbit, composition, etc.)? How do planetary magnetic fields affect habitability?

These are the types of questions that drive my scientific research.  I can still remember the thrill I felt when I first learned that planets emit radio waves at frequencies set by their magnetic field strength.  Planets sing their magnetism out to the cosmos; I want to spend my career listening to them.

I work with ground-based radio telescopes like LOFAR and the VLA to search for characteristic radio emission generated by energetic particles trapped in (exo)planetary magnetic fields.   The frequency is directly proportional to magnetic field strength; if we can measure the highest frequency emitted by a planet, we have a direct measurement of its magnetic field strength at the top of its atmosphere.  Jupiter's magnetic field was measured in this way in 1955, long before spacecraft visited.

Ground-based telescopes are limited at low frequencies by the Earth's ionosphere.  In order to access radio emission from exoplanets with Earth-sized magnetic fields (~0.5 Gauss), we need a radio telescope above the ionosphere - in space.  A large portion of my time over the past 5 years has focused on the development of small spacecraft missions and instrumentation to work toward the goal of a space-based radio telescope.
I grew up on a family farm in Upstate New York.  Our primary crop is blueberries with a range of other berry crops as well.  I worked on the farm and at the farmers market with my family from a young age.  I have stayed involved in the farm and family business even as my career has focused on the stars.

I am an avid cyclist and enjoy exploring New England on my trusty road bike.  I also enjoy following professional cycling.  I also enjoy gardening, growing both vegetables and flowers.

My indoor hobbies center on fiber arts - weaving, spinning, and knitting.  I am also a voracious reader and mega-fan of Star Trek.

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