Dr. Maria Womack is a Planetary Scientist and Astrophysicist at the Florida Space Institute. She has extensive observational experience with comets and exoplanets at optical, infrared and mm-wavelengths. Before coming to FSI, she worked at USF leading NSF-funded research projects on cometary science and serving as the Director of the physics Bridge-to-doctorate program. Before that she served as a program director at NSF, where she led the stellar- and planetary-programs of the Astronomy & Astrophysics Research Grants Program. While at NSF, she also created the NN-EXPLORE partnership between NSF and NASA to support a ground-based high-precision radial velocity survey of nearby stars to confirm and characterize exoplanet candidates. Before NSF, she served as (tenured) Professor at St. Cloud State University where she taught physics and astronomy, carried out NSF- and NASA-funded research, and directed the SCSU observatory and planetarium. She has received many honors, including the NSF CAREER Award for research and education.

Her group's main goal is to constrain physical and chemical models of the origins of planetary systems by obtaining and analyzing data of comets and exoplanets and her work is supported by NSF and NASA grants. She performs spectroscopy, interferometry and imaging at optical, infrared and millimeter wavelength telescopes and collaborates with leading atmospheric theorists. Dr. Womack also leads a world-wide observing campaign for the Centaur 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann and was co-chair of the 2019 International Centaur Exploration Workshop at FSI. She currently serves as co-chair of the Arecibo Scientific Advisory Committee and provides other management assistance for the Arecibo Observatory.



Ph.D. Physics, Arizona State University, 1991
B.S. Physics, Florida State University, 1985

Professional Experience

  • Scientific Editor, The Planetary Science Journal, American Astronomical Society, 2020-

  • Researcher, Florida Space Institute, University of Central Florida, Mar 2019 -

  • Professor, Department of Physics, University of South Florida, 2015 - 2019

  • Program Director, Division of Astronomical Sciences, National Science Foundation, 2011-2016

  • Asst, Assoc, Professor of Physics and Astronomy, St. Cloud State University, Minnesota, 1997-2015

  • Assistant Professor of Physics, Pennsylvania State University at Erie, 1994-1997

  • Postdoctoral Research Associate, Northern Arizona University, 1992-1994

External Grant Funding History

  • 2020-,coI, NASA CDAP (PI=Dones)

  • 2016-, PI, NSF Planetary Astronomy

  • 2010-2015, PI, NSF Planetary Astronomy

  • 2001-2005, PI, NSF Planetary Astronomy

  • 2001-2004, PI, NASA Planetary Astronomy

  • 1999-2001, Co-I, Toyota Tapestry Grant (PI=Nook)

  • 1996-2002, PI, NSF Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER)

  • 1997-1999, PI, NASA Comet Hale-Bopp Program

  • 1994-1997, NASA Planetary Astronomy tenure-track faculty appointee (PI R. Knacke)

  • 1992-1996, Co-I, NASA Origins of Solar Systems Program (PI=Ziurys)

Recent Refereed Publications

Wierzchos, K., Womack, M., "CO gas and dust outbursts in Centaur 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann," 2020, Astronomical Journal, accepted.

Sickafoose, A.A., Bosh, A.S., Emery, J.P., Person, M.J., Zuluaga, C.A., Womack, M., Bianco, F.B., Zangari, A.M., "Characterization of material around the centaur (2060) Chiron from a visible and near-infrared stellar occultation in 2011," 2020, MNRAS, 491, 3, 3643-3654. doi: 10.1093/mnras/stz3079

Sarid, G., Volk, K., Steckloff, J.K., Harris, W., Womack, M., Woodney, L.M., 2019, "29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1, A Centaur in the Gateway to the Jupiter-Family Comets," ApJLetters, 883, L25.

McKay, A.J., DiSanti, M.A., Kelley, M.S.P., Knight, M.M., Womack, M., Wierzchos, K., Harrington Pinto, O., Bonev, B., Villanueva, GL., Dello Russo, N., Cochran, A., Viver, N., Bauer, J., Vervack, Jr., J.V., Gibb, E., Roth, N., Kawakita, H., 2019, "The peculiar volatile composition of CO-dominated comet C/2016 R2 (PanSTARRS)," Astron. J., 158, 128, 1-24.

Wierzchos, K., Womack, M., 2018, "C/2016 R2 (PANSTARRS): A Comet Rich in CO and Depleted in HCN, Astron. J., 156, 34.

Womack, M., Curtis, O., Lastra, N., Harrington Pinto, O., Rabson, D.A., Wierzchos, K., Cox, T., Rivera, I., Mentzer, C., Ruffini, N., Jackson, C., and Micciche, A., 2018, “Comet C/1995 O1(Hale-Bopp) Visual Lightcurve V1.0,” NASA Planetary Data System, PDS4, 8301E 

Wierzchos, K., Womack, M., Sarid, G. 2017, "Carbon monoxide in the distantly active Centaur (60558) 174P/Echeclus at 6 au," Astronomical J., 153, 5, 230.

Womack, M., Sarid, G., Wierzchos, K. 2017, “Carbon monoxide and other volatiles in distant comets,” Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, topical review article, 129, 973.

Telescope access granted at national and international facilities

  • 2019: Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA)

  • 2016 - 2019: Arizona Radio Observatory Submillimeter Telescope (ARO SMT) 10-m

  • 2016-2018: Arizona Radio Observatory Kitt Peak 12-m telescope

  • 2016-2017: NASA Kepler 2 space observatory (K2)

  • 2016: Institut de Radioastronomie Millimetrique (IRAM) 30-m telescope, Spain

  • 2011: W.M. Keck Observatory 10-m telescope, Hawaii

  • 1990-2005: National Radio Astronomy Observatory 12m telescope, Kitt Peak

  • 1990-1993: Caltech Submillimeter Observatory 10-m telescope, Hawaii.

  • 1993-1995: National Undergraduate Research Observatory, Arizona

  • 1993-1994: James Clerk Maxwell Telescope, 15-m, Hawaii

  • 1988-1990: Kitt Peak National Observatory coude-feed

Maria Womack
mariawomack @; 

©2019 by Maria Womack