2023 Farinella Prize Awarded to Federica Spoto and Diego Turrini
October 2, 2023

2023 Farinella Prize Awarded to Federica Spoto and Diego Turrini

Europlanet Society Press Release

Dr Federica Spoto, of the Minor Planet Centre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, and Dr Diego Turrini, of the National Institute for Astrophysics – Turin Astrophysical Observatory (INAF-OATo) in Italy, have been awarded jointly the 2023 Paolo Farinella Prize for their outstanding contributions to the field “From superbolides to meteorites: physics and dynamics of small planetary impactors”. The award ceremony will take place during the 55th Annual Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) meeting joint with the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) in San Antonio, Texas, and online and will be followed by prize lectures by each of the winners.

The annual prize was established in 2010 to honour the memory of the Italian scientist Paolo Farinella (1953-2000). Each year, the prize acknowledges an outstanding researcher not older than 47 years (the age of Prof Farinella when he passed away) who has achieved important results in one of Prof Farinella’s fields of work. Each edition of the prize focuses on a different research area and, in 2023, the topic was chosen to highlight recent advances in knowledge about small-size Near-Earth Object (NEO) populations. The award is supported by the Europlanet Society.

Ettore Perozzi, Senior Scientist at the Science Directorate of the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and Chair of the 2023 Paolo Farinella Committee, said on behalf of the Prize Committee: “The work of Diego Turrini has provided deep insights into the collisional processes occurring early in the history of planetary systems, while Federica Spoto has paved the way to quickly identify and reliably compute the orbit of imminent impactors of the Earth. That is the beginning and the end of the long journey of meteorites.”

Dr Spoto’s research focuses on advanced methods to determine the orbits of asteroids and
the age of asteroid families. She led an international team of experts responsible for the validation of the Gaia Solar System objects, a necessary step to ensure the quality of the data in every release. Throughout her career, Dr Spoto has tackled the challenge of efficiently determining the orbits of ‘imminent impactors’ – newly discovered objects approaching our planet that, depending on their size and composition, could result in meteorites reaching the ground and potentially causing significant damage.

“Federica’s outstanding contribution has been twofold: addressing from a theoretical point of view a highly complex chaotic orbit determination problem, and translating the results into practical algorithms for responding to the needs of the operational systems for planetary defence,” said Dr Perozzi.

Through theoretical work, modelling and observations, Dr Turrini has investigated the dynamical and collisional evolution of Solar System bodies, in particular during the early phases of planetary formation. His work highlights the role small planetary impactors play in shaping planetary bodies and their surfaces through collisional erosion and contaminating their chemical composition. He led the development of the ‘Jovian Early Bombardment’ scenario, which describes how the formation and migration of Jupiter triggered a primordial bombardment in the asteroid belt, and the search for its signatures in protoplanetary disks hosting newly formed giant planets. As a scientific team member of the visible and infrared imaging spectrometer (VIR) instrument on the Dawn mission, Dr Turrini combined impact contamination models with in-situ measurements of Vesta and meteoritic data to explain the abundance of dark, carbon-rich material, as well as the unexpected presence of water and olivine deposits, on the surface of Vesta, the second biggest asteroid in the Solar System. These methods developed to study the contamination of asteroids are now providing the basis for investigating how small impactors shape the atmospheric composition of giant exoplanets.

“Diego’s impressive list of participation in high-level committees, such as the ESA Solar System and Exploration Working Group (SSEWG), and his involvement in past, present and future space missions, including Dawn, Juno, Ariel, JUICE and BepiColombo, witness the appreciation of his work by the international astronomical and space science communities,” said Dr Perozzi.

Dr Spoto obtained her academic degrees in celestial mechanics at the Department of Mathematics of the University of Pisa, Italy. She then moved to France to take up post-doctoral positions at Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur and at the Institut de Mécanique Céleste et de Calcul des Éphémérides (IMCCE) in Paris. In February 2020, she joined the IAU Minor Planet Centre where she now holds the role of project scientist.

Dr Turrini obtained a Master’s degree in physics at the University of Milano Bicocca and a PhD in space science and technology at the Center of Studies and Activities for Space (CISAS) “Giuseppe Colombo” at the University of Padova, Italy. He then moved to INAF for his post-doctoral studies and is currently a researcher at INAF-OATo, on transfer from the INAF – Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology (INAF-IAPS) in Rome.

About the Paolo Farinella Prize

The Paolo Farinella Prize (https://www.europlanet-society.org/paolo-farinella-prize/) was established to honour the memory and the outstanding figure of Paolo Farinella (1953-2000), an extraordinary scientist and person. The prize is awarded in recognition of significant contributions given in the fields of interest of Farinella, which span from planetary sciences to space geodesy, fundamental physics, science popularization, and security in space, weapons control and disarmament. The winner of the prize is selected each year on the basis of their overall research results in a chosen field. Candidates must participate in international and interdisciplinary collaborations, and be not older than 47 years, the age of Farinella when he passed away, at the date of 25 March 2000. The prize was first proposed during the ‘International Workshop on Paolo Farinella the scientist and the man’, held in Pisa in 2010 and supported by the University of Pisa, ISTI/CNR and by IAPS-INAF (Rome), and first awarded in 2011.

The 2023 Paolo Farinella Prize Committee:

Ettore Perozzi (ASI, Italy), Chair
Alceste Bonanos (National Observatory of Athens, Greece)
Daniele Gardiol (INAF – Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica, Italy)
Maria Hajdukova (Astronomical Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences)
Robert Jedicke (University of Hawaii, USA)
Peter Jenniskens (SETI Institute, USA)

Paolo Farinella Prize winners:

2011: William Bottke (Physics and dynamics of small Solar System bodies)
2012: John Chambers (Formation and early evolution of the Solar System)
2013: Patrick Michel (Collisional processes in the Solar System)
2014: David Vokrouhlicky (Understanding of the dynamics and physics of Solar System, including how pressure from solar radiation affects the orbits of both asteroids and artificial satellites)
2015: Nicolas Biver (Molecular and isotopic composition of cometary volatiles by means of submillimetre and millimetre ground and space observations)
2016: Kleomenis Tsiganis (Studies of the applications of celestial mechanics to the dynamics of planetary systems, including the development of the Nice model)
2017: Simone Marchi (Understanding the complex problems related to the impact history and physical evolution of the inner Solar System, including the Moon)
2018: Francis Nimmo (Understanding of the internal structure and evolution of icy bodies in the Solar System and the resulting influence on their surface processes)
2019: Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo (Observational characterisation of the Kuiper belt and the Neptune-trojan population)
2020: Jonathan Fortney and Heather Knutson (Understanding of the structure, evolution and atmospheric dynamics of giant planets)
2021: Diana Valencia and Lena Noack (Understanding of the interior structure and dynamics of terrestrial and super-Earth exoplanets)
2022: Julie Castillo-Rogez and Martin Jutzi (Asteroids: Physics, Dynamics, Modelling and Observations)


Farinella Prize winner 2023: Federica Spoto.
Dr Federica Spoto, joint winner of the Farinella Prize 2023. Credit: Jonathan Sullivan.

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Farinella Prize winner 2023: Diego Turrini.
Dr Diego Turrini, joint winner of the Farinella Prize 2023. Credit: Danae Polychroni

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Science Contacts

Dr Federica Spoto
Minor Planet Center
Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian
Cambridge (MA)
Phone: +1 (617) 495-7170

Dr Diego Turrini
National Institute for Astrophysics
Turin Astrophysical Observatory (INAF-OATo)
Phone: +39 011 8101933

Media Contact

Anita Heward
Press Officer
Europlanet Society
Phone: +44 7756 034243

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