Solar System Exploration Division

Keith S Noll


Keith S Noll's Contact Card & Information.
Phone: 301.614.5968
Org Code: 693
Mail Code 693
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Missions & Projects

Brief Bio

Dr. Keith Noll is a planetary astronomer at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center where he is the Project Scientist for the Lucy mission. The Lucy mission is scheduled to launch in October 2021 and will be the first mission to explore the Jupiter Trojan asteroids, flying by six Trojans over a nearly 12 year mission. Dr. Noll is also an active member of the International Astronimcal Union where he serves as Vice Chair of the Working Group for Small Body Nomenclature - the body responsible for naming asteroids, comets, and Kuiper Belt objects. Prior to taking on the role of Lucy Project Scientist, he served as Chief for the Planetary Systems Laboratory at GSFC for 6 years. He came to GSFC after 20 years at the Space Telescope Science Institute where he was a Full Astronomer and held various positions including Head of the Senior Science Staff. While at STScI he initiated and led the Hubble Heritage Project which was responsible for creating many of Hubble's most well-known images. His scientific interests include small bodies in the solar system, giant planet atmospheres, brown dwarfs, Titan and icy satellites. He has used the Hubble Space Telescope to discover more than 75% of all known Kuiper Belt binaries and the third known Trojan binary, Iphthime. His current research interest is identifying opportunities to study primitive solar system material accessible to Earth-based missions, a goal that will be achieved by the Lucy mission.

Research Interests

Kuiper Belt Binaries

Solar System: Solar System

 The Kuiper Belt consists of ~100,000 objects with d≥100km diameter (and many more smaller objects) orbiting beyond Neptune. A surprising number of these objects are detectable binaries, most of the 75 known binary systems having been detected with the Hubble Space Telescope. Binaries are exceptionally useful for two reasons. Binary orbits, once determined, yield the system mass - the only practical way of obtaining mass-based physical data on such distant objects. Second, their statistical properties (separation, relative component size, frequency in various subpopulations, component colors) are powerful constraints on formation and evolution scenarios. The long-term goals realizable from the study of these powerful natural probes requires a steady and ongoing observing program.

Current Projects

Lucy Discovery Mission

Solar System

First mission to the Trojan asteroids.

Professional Societies

Division of Planetary Science, American Astronomical Society

1981 - Present

International Astronomical Union

1993 - Present

IAU Working Group for Small Body Nomenclature

2007 - Present

Selected Publications


2019. "Detection of Rotational Acceleration of Bennu Using HST Light Curve Observations." Geophysical Research Letters 46 (4): 1956-1962 [10.1029/2018gl080658] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "The upcoming mutual event season for the Patroclus–Menoetius Trojan binary." Icarus 305 198-202 [10.1016/j.icarus.2018.01.009] [Journal Article/Letter]

2017. "Trajectory Optimization for Missions to Small Bodies with a Focus on Scientific Merit." Computing in Science & Engineering 19 (4): 18-28 [10.1109/mcse.2017.3151246] [Journal Article/Letter]

2015. "New Horizons: Long-range Kuiper Belt targets observed by the Hubble Space Telescope." Icarus 246 369-374 [Journal Article/Letter]

2014. "The orbit of transneptunian binary Manwë and Thorondor and their upcoming mutual events." Icarus 237 1-8 [Journal Article/Letter]

2014. "The UT 7/8 February 2013 Sila-Nunam mutual event & future predictions." Icarus 229 423-427 [Journal Article/Letter]

2014. "Rotational properties of the binary and non-binary populations in the trans-Neptunian belt." Astron. & Astrophys. 569 id.A3 [Journal Article/Letter]

2010. "First Earth-Based Detection of a Superbolide on Jupiter." Ap J Lett 721 L129-L133. [Journal Article/Letter]

2010. "Jupiter after the 2009 Impact: Hubble Space Telescope Imaging of the Impact-generated Debris and its Temporal Evolution." Ap J Lett 715 L150-L154. [Journal Article/Letter]

2008. "Binaries in the Kuiper Belt." The Solar System Beyond Neptune 345-363 [Article in Book]

2008. "Changing Characteristics of Jupiter's Little Red Spot." Astronomical Journal 135 2246-2452. [Journal Article/Letter]