Steven Soter is an astrophysicist currently holding the positions of scientist-in-residence for New York University's Environmental Studies Program and of Research Associate for the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. He is a vocal proponent of the International Astronomical Union's controversial 2006 definition of planet.
In 1974, Soter suggested that dust produced by meteoritic bombardment of Saturn's moon Phoebe might orbit the planet until colliding with Saturn's moon Iapetus and be responsible for the unique dark-bright dichotomy of the latter. Although not the unique cause, dust originating from Saturn's irregular satellites was later found in data from the Cassini spacecraft to indeed play a crucial role in the coloration of Iapetus. The discovery of Saturn's "Phoebe ring" in 2009 further strengthened the probability that this process first described by Soter plays a significant role in shaping Iapetus's appearance.
In 1977-1979, Soter co-wrote, along with Ann Druyan, Carl Sagan's monumental 1980 astronomy documentary series Cosmos. Since then, he has also acted as advisor on a number of science documentaries, such as the IMAX films Blue Planet and Cosmic Voyage.
In 1997, Soter took a position at the American Museum of Natural History's Hayden Planetarium, and eventually progressed to the position of research associate. He also made significant contributions to research related to the ancient Greek city Helike.
In 2007, after the IAU announced its controversial decision on the definition of planet, Soter published an article in Scientific American in which he outlined a mathematical formulation, the "planetary discriminant," to describe how the IAU's requirement that a planet must have "cleared its neighborhood" of other objects might be applied in practice. He had already written a more technical article on the same subject in 2006 before the new definition, but published after in The Astronomical Journal.
- Denk, Tilmann; Neukum, Gerhard; Roatsch, Thomas; Porco, Carolyn C.; Burns, Joseph A.; Galuba, Götz G.; Schmedemann, Nico; Helfenstein, Paul; Thomas, Peter C. (2010-01-22). "Iapetus: Unique Surface Properties and a Global Color Dichotomy from Cassini Imaging". Science (AAAS) 326 (5964): 435–439. Bibcode:2010Sci...327..435D. doi:10.1126/science.1177088. PMID 20007863. Retrieved 2010-01-22.
- Spencer, John R.; Denk, Tilmann (2010-01-22). "Formation of Iapetus' Extreme Albedo Dichotomy by Exogenically Triggered Thermal Ice Migration". Science (AAAS) 326 (5964): 432–435. Bibcode:2010Sci...327..432S. doi:10.1126/science.1177132. PMID 20007862. Retrieved 2010-01-22.
- Verbiscer, Anne; Skrutskie, Michael; Hamilton, Douglas (published online 2009-10-07). "Saturn's largest ring". Nature 461 (7267): 1098–100. Bibcode:2009Natur.461.1098V. doi:10.1038/nature08515. PMID 19812546.
- Cowen, Rob (2009-10-06). "Largest known planetary ring discovered". Science News.
- Information on Steven Soter at American Museum of Natural History website
- Steven Soter at the Internet Movie Database
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