Karen J Meech

PhD (1987) Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Planetary Astronomy
B.A (1981) Rice University, Space Physics
  • Manx comets-testing dynamical models
  • Comet volatiles (H2O, CO, CO2)
  • Comet/asteroid space missions
  • Characterizing Earth's primordial water
IfA Mānoa, C-231
(808) 956-6828(808) 956-6828


I am an astrobiologist interested in understanding how the ingredients that make a world habitable are delivered to terrestrial planets in their host star’s habitable zone. In particular, I am interested in understanding the distribution of volatiles in the early solar system, and how water was delivered to Earth.

I’m involved in large international collaborations both for research and graduate and early career field training.

I believe that the key to innovative science involves interdisciplinary research, and I lead the UHNAI Astrobiology research team at UH.


Comets are icy left-overs of the planet formation process that have been preserved cold since the time of formation. Studies of these small objects provide clues about the chemistry and dynamics in our solar system’s protoplanetary disk. I use 8 and 10-m class telescopes on Maunakea and in Chile to study comets as well as a number of smaller telescopes around the world. I have been a Co-Investigator on the Deep Impact, EPOXI and Stardust-NeXT missions.

Understanding the origin of Earth’s water requires an interdisciplinary approach, with insight from the fields of protoplanetary disk chemistry, dynamics, cosmochemistry and geochemistry. With my team we are studying deep mantle rocks to determine the isotopic composition of Earth’s primordial water. I am leading the development of a space mission to explore volatile materials in the asteroid belt to assess whether this region is key to providing Earth’s water.


  • ASTR 281 Astrobiology
  • ASTR 740 Astrobiology Seminar
  • ASTR 630 Solar System (co-taught with other faculty)
  • ASTR 734 Grant Writing


  • Science Organizing Committee: ACM2017 and AbSciCon 2017
  • External Review Committee - Paris Astrobiotlogy Research University (2016-2019(
  • AAS/DPS Climate Committee (2016-present)
  • Nordic Astrobiology Network US Representatitve (2009-present)
  • Gemini Users Committee (2016-2019)
  • TMT SAC, AURA Representative (2016-2019)
  • TMT Science Working Group (2014-present)
  • NOAO Users Committee (2014-present)
  • Faculty Personnel Committee (2016-2017)
  • IfA 50th Anniversary Committee (2016-2017)
  • IfA Awards Committee, (2015-present)
  • Graduate Research Oversight Committee, GROG (2014-present)
  • IfA Undergraduate Program Committee (2014-present)



  • University of Hawai'i Regent's Medal for Research Excellence, 2015
  • Director's Research Excellence Award, 2013
  • William Tylor Olcott Distinguished Service Award of the AAVSO, 2009
  • National Academy of Science Kavli Foundation Fellow, 2006-1008
  • American Astronomical Society Harold C. Urey Prize, 1994
  • Annie Jump Cannon Award, 1988
  • Heaps Physics Prize, 1981



  • Larissa Nofi, PhD
  • Marielle Dela Cruz, Senior Thesis
  • Tony L. Farnham, PhD 1996, Univ. Maryland, Senior Research Scientist
  • James Bauer, PhD 2003, JPL, NEOWISE Deputy PI, WISE MOPS pipeline lead scientist
  • Luke Dundon, M.S. 2003, Lt. and Asst Command chaplain on an amphibious assault ship
  • Sarah Sonnett, PhD 2013, JPL, NASA Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Heather Kaluna, PhD 2015 - Postdoc, Univ. Hawaii, (Faculty UH Hilo summer 2017)


  • Jan Kleyna
  • Jacklyn R. Green (1988-1989), JPL Scientist/Manager
  • Mark Metzger (1994-1995), Senior Research Scientist
  • Olivier Hainaut (1994-1997), ESO, Operations Directorate
  • Yanga Fernandez (1999-2001), Faculty, Univ. Central Florida
  • Audrey Delsanti (2005-2006), Associate Professor, Marsielle University
  • Jacqueline V. Keane (2005-2008), Faculty, Univ. Hawaii, IfA
  • Timm Riesen (2008-2014), University of Bern
  • Gal Sarid (2009-2012), Univ. Central Florida, Research Associate
  • Bin Yang (2009-2013), ESO Scientific Staff, Chile
  • Henry Hsieh (2010-2013), Research Scientist, PSI