MIT EAPS Directory

Richard P. Binzel

Professor of Planetary Sciences and Margaret MacVicar Faculty Fellow
Chair, Undergraduate Committee | Secondary Appointment - AeroAstro

Richard Binzel is one of the world’s leading scientists in the study of asteroids and Pluto. As the inventor of the Torino Scale, a method for categorizing the impact hazard associated with near-Earth objects (NEOs) such as asteroids and comets, his ongoing telescopic research includes the spectral characterization of asteroids posing a potential hazard to Earth as well as those that may be most easily reachable by future robotic and human missions. His scientific analysis has shown the link between major meteorite groups and their formation and source locations. Asteroid number 2873 bears his name, an honor bestowed by the International Astronomical Union in recognition of his contributions to the field. His mapping efforts of Pluto in the 1980s revealed a diverse surface entreating for exploration, finally achieved in 2015 as a co-investigator on NASA’s New Horizons mission. He is also a co-investigator on NASA’s OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return mission where he leads the development of a student-built flight instrument, the Regolith X-ray Imaging Spectrograph (REXIS).

Binzel was awarded the H. C. Urey Prize by the American Astronomical Society in 1991. He also was awarded a MIT MacVicar Faculty Fellowship for teaching excellence in 1994 and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He has been a faculty member in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT since 1999.


National Air and Space Museum, Goddard Trophy (2016) | American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, Space Ops Award (2016) | Space Foundation, Jack L. Sweigert Exploration Award (2016) | National Space Society, Space Pioneer Award (2016) | New Horizons Mission to Pluto, Team Award (2015) | Science Magazine: People’s Choice Award (2015) | Science Magazine: Top Ten Breakthroughs of the Year (2015) | Discovery Magazine: Top Science Story (2015) | Science News Magazine: Top Science Story (2015) | Fellow, Meteorlogical Society (2004) | Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (1999) | MacVicar Faculty Fellow, MIT (1994) | Urey Prize, American Astronomical Society Division for Planetary Sciences (1991) | Dudley/Fullam Award, Dudley Observatory (1991) | Presidential Young Investigator, National Science Foundation (1990-1994) | Name “Binzel” bestowed to asteroid #2873, International Astronomical Union (1984) | Apker Award, American Physical Society (1980) | Viking Prize Grant, NASA (1978)

Contact Information

t: 617 253 6486





Ph.D., Astronomy, University of Texas, 1986
M.A., Astronomy, University of Texas, 1982
B.A., Physics, Summa Cum Laude, Macalester College, 1980

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