Sciences and Exploration Directorate

Sara Faggi


Sara Faggi's Contact Card & Information.
Phone: 301.614.5233
Org Code: 693
Mail Code 693
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Brief Bio

Dr. Sara Faggi was born in Florence, Italy, where she received her education. She holds a Ph.D. in Physics and Astrophysics from Università degli Studi di Firenze, where she also received her previous bachelor degree in Physics and her master degree in Astrophysics.

Dr. Sara Faggi is today a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Solar System Division at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, she is part of the Goddard Center for Astrobiology, and she is also appointed as Research Assistant Professor at American University, Washington DC.

She leads compositional studies of comets through high-resolution infrared spectroscopy. Here after listed her research highlights:

  • Expert on high-resolution spectroscopy instrumentation and observations of comets and planetary atmospheres.
  • Participation in the ground-based observing campaign in support of as ESA/Rosetta mission at ESO/VLT.
  • Participation and lead of the ground-based observations in support of as ESA/ExoMars space mission, with GIANO/TNG and iSHELL/IRTF.
  • Support and guidance during the instrument Science Verification observing time for multiple high-resolution spectrographs such as: GIANO/TNG Canary Islands, iSHELL/IRTF and NIRSPEC/Keck 2 Hawaii.
  • Lead investigator and collaborator of numerous cometary observational campaigns, with a focused effort at infrared wavelengths. (from 2013 – present: C/2012 S1 ISON observing campaign VIS-IR and radio observations, 67P/GC observing campaign VIS-IR, 21P/GZ observing campaign with iSHELL/IRTF, 46P/Wirtanen observing campaign with iSHELL/IRTF.)
  • Co-investigator of the Planetary Spectrum Generator (PSG,
  • Developer of echelle spectrograph simulator (iSHELL/PSG instrument simulator:
  • Co-Investigator of the MIRMIS spectrograph for Comet Interceptor mission.

Research Interests

High-resolution Spectroscopic Studies of Comets and Planetary Atmospheres

Solar System: Comets

Origin and Evolution of Organics and Water in Planetary Systems

Solar System: Astrobiology


NPP/NASA Postdoctoral Research Fellow

NASA Postdoctoral Program Fellowship administrated by USRA - Universities Space Research Association - NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

March 2017 - February 2019


Project: The Origin and Evolution of Organics and Water in Planetary Systems.

Description: Did delivery of exogenous organics and water enable the emergence and evolution of life? Why is Earth wet and alive? Along with the origin of Earth’s water, we seek to better understand which organic compounds are generated in interstellar and proto-planetary environments and later delivered to planets. The quest and its interim results inform other questions: Was Mars wet and alive? Do ocean worlds in the outer solar system harbor life? Do habitable worlds exist elsewhere? We address these goals through observational, theoretical, and laboratory research.

Comets are considered the most pristine bodies of the solar system and their investigation through cosmogonic parameters provides important information on native conditions in the solar nebula. Investigations of cosmogonic thermometers (isotopic ratios, spin temperatures and molecular abundances) encoded by biologically relevant primary volatiles, using next-generation high-resolution echelle spectrometers available now (iSHELL/NASA-IRTF) or within the incoming two years (NIRSPEC2/Keck2, CRIRES+/ESO-VLT) are relevant to understanding the formation and evolution of our planetary system, to testing the delivery of prebiotic matter to the terrestrial planets by small icy bodies and to addressing the puzzling origin of Earth’s oceans.

Advisor: Michael J. Mumma

Research Assistant Professor

American University - NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

February 2019 - Present

Research Project: High Resolution Spectroscopic Studies in Astrobiology

Description: The importance of studying water and organic molecules is related to their biological relevance. The origin of water oceans and pre-biotic organic molecules on Earth, and the origin of an ancient ocean on Mars, is unsolved. The terrestrial planets formed in a dry region of the proto-planetary disk by aggregation of rocky planetesimals; icy aggregates could form only beyond the frost lines. Even today the bulk Earth is cosmically dry (poor in hydrogen, relative to the protoplanetary disk). About 60 Ma after Earth-accretion, the moon-forming impact probably removed any water that may have outgassed after core formation, leaving the Hadean Earth water-poor at its surface. Yet, early zircons provide evidence that oceans existed by 250 Ma after Earth’s formation. How did terrestrial planets acquire their water? Bombardment of Earth and Mars by icy and rocky planetesimals (represented today by comet nuclei and asteroids) was common from their formation through the Late Heavy Bombardment. Because water is the most abundant native ice in cometary nuclei, with the aggregate CHON ices comprising a close second, we want to understand the role primitive bodies played in delivering water and pre-biotic organics to the young inner planets. Investigations of cosmogonic indicators are necessary to test the hypothesis that small icy bodies delivered water and prebiotic organics to early Earth and Mars. Isotopic ratios (e.g., water D/H, 13/C12C, 15N/14N), nuclear spin temperatures, and chemical abundances in comets are key to identifying temperatures, molecular abundances and physical processes that occurred 4.6 billion years ago in the comet-forming regions of the proto-planetary disk. Observations of Mars will provide new data on the composition, global distribution, and variability of CO2 and trace gases, including isotopologs. Together, the inter-comparison of cosmogonic indicators in comets and in planetary atmospheres through high-resolution spectroscopic studies will address these unresolved questions.


Ph.D. in Physiscs and Astronomy
03 March 2017

Università degli Studi di Firenze, Florence – Italy
Astrophysical Observatory of Arcetri, Florence - Italy

Thesis title: HIRES/E-ELT astrobiology science case. Cosmogonic indicators in comets: Targeting a quantum leap using new-generation high-resolution echelle spectrometers.

Ph.D. Summer School

Third Nordic-Hawaii Summer School: "Water, Ice and the Origin of Life in the Universe" Place: Iceland

Master’s degree in physics and Astrophysics
23 April 2013

(20/S - Class of second level degree in physics)
Name of the course of study: SCIENZE FISICHE E ASTROFISICHE
Università degli Studi di Firenze, Florence – Italy

Thesis title: “C/2011 F1LINEAR: Search for Organic Ices in Cometary Coma”. Dissertation/thesis keywords: comets, astrobiology, cometary coma, astronomical observations.
Final degree mark: 110/110 cum laude

Studies Abroad
August 2010

European Union Program Summer School: 'Evolution of the Biosphere' – astrobiology summer school
Place: France

Bachelor’s degree Physics
22 April 2008

(25 - Class of first level degree in Physics)
Università degli Studi di Firenze, Florence – Italy

Thesis title: “The Black Hole mass's determination at the Galattic Center”

Special Experience

Selected participant for the NASA Planetary Science Winter School 2023



2024. "Revealing Callisto’s Carbon-rich Surface and CO2 Atmosphere with JWST." The Planetary Science Journal 5 (3): 60 [10.3847/psj/ad23e6] [Journal Article/Letter]

2024. "The Comet Interceptor Mission." Space Science Reviews 220 (1): 9 [10.1007/s11214-023-01035-0] [Journal Article/Letter]

2024. "The Modular Infrared Molecules And Ices Sensor (MIRMIS): An Instrument Visiting A Long-Period Comet." Abstract from 21st Annual Meeting AOGS 2024, Pyeongchang, Korea, Republic of 1 [Proceedings]

2023. "Author's Reply to Comment by Greaves et al. on “Phosphine in the Venusian Atmosphere: A Strict Upper Limit From SOFIA GREAT Observations”." Geophysical Research Letters 50 (23): [10.1029/2023gl106136] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Endogenous CO 2 ice mixture on the surface of Europa and no detection of plume activity." Science 381 (6664): 1305-1308 [10.1126/science.adg4270] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Molecular Outgassing in Centaur 29P/Schwassmann–Wachmann 1 during Its Exceptional 2021 Outburst: Coordinated Multiwavelength Observations Using nFLASH at APEX and iSHELL at the NASA-IRTF." The Planetary Science Journal 4 (9): 172 [10.3847/psj/ace1e9] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "JWST molecular mapping and characterization of Enceladus’ water plume feeding its torus." Nature Astronomy 7 (9): 1056-1062 [10.1038/s41550-023-02009-6] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Strongly Depleted Methanol and Hypervolatiles in Comet C/2021 A1 (Leonard): Signatures of Interstellar Chemistry?." The Planetary Science Journal 4 (1): 8 [10.3847/psj/aca64c] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Phosphine in the Venusian Atmosphere: A Strict Upper Limit From SOFIA GREAT Observations." Geophysical Research Letters 49 (22): [10.1029/2022gl101055] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "The Deuterium Isotopic Ratio of Water Released From the Martian Caps as Measured With TGO/NOMAD." Geophysical Research Letters 49 (12): [10.1029/2022gl098161] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "The Extraordinary Passage of Comet C/2020 F3 NEOWISE: Evidence for Heterogeneous Chemical Inventory in Its Nucleus." The Astronomical Journal 162 (5): 178 [10.3847/1538-3881/ac179c] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Investigation of the Origins of Comets as Revealed through Infrared High-resolution Spectroscopy I. Molecular Abundances." The Astronomical Journal 162 (2): 74 [10.3847/1538-3881/abfdb7] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "No evidence of phosphine in the atmosphere of Venus from independent analyses." Nature Astronomy 5 (7): 631-635 [10.1038/s41550-021-01422-z] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "Probing the Atmospheric Cl Isotopic Ratio on Mars: Implications for Planetary Evolution and Atmospheric Chemistry." Geophysical Research Letters 48 (9): [10.1029/2021gl092650] [Journal Article/Letter]

2021. "The Crucial Role of Ground- and Space-Based Remote Sensing Studies of Cometary Volatiles in the Next Decade (2023-2032)." Vol. 53, Issue 4 (Planetary/Astrobiology Decadal Survey Whitepapers) 53 (4): [10.3847/25c2cfeb.14285328] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "The Crucial Role of Ground- and Space-Based Remote Sensing Studies of Cometary Volatiles in the Next Decade (2023-2032)." arXiv e-prints arXiv:2007.08568 [Other]

2020. "New Insights into the Chemical Composition of Five Oort Cloud Comets after Re-analysis of Their Infrared Spectra." The Astronomical Journal 159 (4): 157 [10.3847/1538-3881/ab7206] [Journal Article/Letter]

2019. "Quantifying the Evolution of Molecular Production Rates of Comet 21P/Giacobini–Zinner with iSHELL/NASA-IRTF." The Astronomical Journal 158 (6): 254 [10.3847/1538-3881/ab4f6e] [Journal Article/Letter]

2019. "Observations of Jupiter Family Comet 252P/LINEAR During a Close Approach to Earth Reveal Large Abundances of Methanol and Ethane." The Astronomical Journal 158 (3): 98 [10.3847/1538-3881/ab289c] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "The Volatile Composition of Comet C/2017 E4 (Lovejoy) before its Disruption, as Revealed by High-resolution Infrared Spectroscopy with iSHELL at the NASA/IRTF." The Astronomical Journal 156 (2): 68 [10.3847/1538-3881/aace01] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "Planetary Spectrum Generator: An accurate online radiative transfer suite for atmospheres, comets, small bodies and exoplanets." Journal of Quantitative Spectroscopy and Radiative Transfer 217 86-104 [10.1016/j.jqsrt.2018.05.023] [Journal Article/Letter]

2017. "Ground-based monitoring of comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko gas activity throughout the Rosetta mission." Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society 469 (Suppl_2): S222-S229 [10.1093/mnras/stx1591] [Journal Article/Letter]

2017. "The 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko observation campaign in support of the Rosetta mission." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences 375 (2097): 20160249 [10.1098/rsta.2016.0249] [Journal Article/Letter]

2017. "Refining the asteroid taxonomy by polarimetric observations." Icarus 284 30-42 [10.1016/j.icarus.2016.11.003] [Journal Article/Letter]

2016. "DETAILED ANALYSIS OF NEAR-IR WATER (H2O) EMISSION IN COMET C/2014 Q2 (LOVEJOY) WITH THE GIANO/TNG SPECTROGRAPH." The Astrophysical Journal 830 (2): 157 [10.3847/0004-637x/830/2/157] [Journal Article/Letter]

2016. "Distant activity of 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko in 2014: Ground-based results during the Rosetta pre-landing phase." Astronomy & Astrophysics 588 A80 [10.1051/0004-6361/201527834] [Journal Article/Letter]

2016. "The dust environment of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from Rosetta OSIRIS and VLT observations in the 4.5 to 2.9 AU heliocentric distance range inbound." Astronomy & Astrophysics 587 A155 [10.1051/0004-6361/201527564] [Journal Article/Letter]

2015. "Search for ammonia in comet C/2012 S1 (ISON)." Planetary and Space Science 118 173-175 [10.1016/j.pss.2015.06.009] [Journal Article/Letter]

Selected Public Outreach

2019 Maryland STEM Festival

December 2019 - December 2019

Sara Faggi (693/American University) opened the 2019 Maryland STEM Festival as keynote speaker.
MCPS (Montgomery County Public School ) and educational partners hosted the STEM Festival Showcase from 10 a.m.–1 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 2, at Northwood High School. As an official 2019 Maryland STEM Festival event, the MCPS STEM Festival Showcase is among hundreds of community-based events that showcased STEM activities for Maryland residents. The mission is to encourage students to take a greater interest in STEM and perhaps pursue STEM-related careers.

Education and public outreach at Arcetri Astrophysical Observatory

2014 - 2016

Lessons of astrophysics to Elementary School, Middle School and High School classes visiting the Astrophysical Observatory of Arcetri. Guided visit of Amici telescope, Sky Theather and Astronomical Park.
The guided visits are organized by Astronomical Association of Arcetri Friends (AAAA) a cultural association for the promotion of scientific knowledge.

Education and public outreach at UNIFI-University of Study of Florence. UNIFI-OPENLAB

2014 - 2016

Lessons of physics and astrophysics to Elementary School, Middle School and High School classes organized by University of Florence.

Public outreach at University of Florence. UNIFI-ScienzEstate

July 2015 - July 2015

Solar System Exploration tour and astronomical observations for families