Heavens on Earth: What Our Solar System Reveals About Our Home Planet

To Understand the Earth Below Our Feet, Earthlings Like Professor Thomas Lapen Just Look Up

Geologists who study Earth's prehistory find that the planet itself is one of the great obstacles to understanding it. Our weather-beaten blue marble obscures much of its own past as tectonic activity, weathering and erosion blot out most evidence of the world's younger days. To see back in time, scientists like University of Houston's Professor Thomas Lapen look to the heavens.

Thomas Lapen

Lapen, who is chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, has always been hounded by curiosity.

He cataloged the geology of the Pacific Northwest as a young researcher and clambered the Italian Alps to complete his doctorate. In his spare time, he may have discovered a 6-mile-wide impact crater in Niger, a country he has never visited, during a sleepless night more than 6,000 miles away.

Today, his research attempts to uncover the origins and compositions of solar system materials through the study of meteorites from Mars, the moon and the asteroid belt.

UH Magazine asked Lapen what fascinates him about his home planet and why his attention nonetheless wanders off-world. Read more in this Question and Answer article from the Fall 2022 issue.