Caltech Home > Home > News > Watson Lecture: Bethany Ehlmann...
Search open search form

Watson Lecture: Bethany Ehlmann Discusses the Lunar Trailblazer Mission to the Moon

What if a small spacecraft could map the location of water on the Moon and help set the stage for the next generation of lunar exploration? On Wednesday, January 31, 2024, at 7:30 p.m. PT in Caltech's Beckman Auditorium, Bethany Ehlmann, professor of planetary science and the Allen V. C. Davis and Lenabelle Davis Leadership Chair and director of Caltech's Keck Institute for Space Studies, will share the exciting goals of Lunar Trailblazer, a new type of NASA mission that's using small satellites for planetary exploration.

In a public talk called "Lunar Trailblazer: The Pioneering Small Satellite to Investigate Water on the Moon" that continues the 101st season of the Watson Lectures, Ehlmann will describe how Lunar Trailblazer will map the composition, temperature, and thermophysical properties of the Moon's surface. This information will ultimately help researchers understand the form, abundance, and distribution of water on the Moon—one of the most surprising discoveries of the 2000s.

"Lunar Trailblazer, in addition to the science, plays a key role in the future exploration of the Moon by developing the maps of where there is water, where there are interesting minerals, [and] what the thermophysical properties of the surface are that are going to help guide the next generation of robotic and human explorers to find the most scientifically valuable spots on the Moon to visit," says Ehlmann, the mission's principal investigator. "Space exploration, in many ways, brings out the best in us, as a society, where we band together to do something that's hard, that's challenging, and that's really done for the purposes of knowledge."

Starting at 6 p.m., several students and staff from Ehlmann's lab will be available to answer questions about the Lunar Trailblazer mission outside Beckman Auditorium.

Ehlmann earned MS and a PhD in geological sciences from Brown University. Prior to coming to Caltech in 2011, she was a European Union Marie Curie Fellow at the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale in Orsay, France. Her research focuses on mineralogy and chemistry of planetary surfaces, remote sensing techniques and instruments, astrobiology, and science policy and outreach, with a primary interest in unraveling Mars's environmental history and understanding water in the solar system.

The Watson Lectures offer new opportunities each month to hear how Caltech's premier researchers are tackling society's most pressing challenges and inventing the technologies of the future. Join friends and neighbors outside Beckman Auditorium to enjoy food, drinks, and music together before each lecture. Interactive displays related to the evening's topic will give audience members additional context and information. The festivities start at 6 p.m. Guests are also encouraged to stay for post-talk coffee and tea as well as the chance to converse with attendees and researchers.

Learn more about the Earnest C. Watson Lecture Series and its history at

Watson Lectures are free and open to the public. Register online. A recording will be made available after the live event.

Written by Katie Neith

Caltech Media Relations