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KNOXVILLE — Dr. Hap McSween, a University of Tennessee Distinguished Professor, will receive one of the world’s top honors for planetary geology and cosmochemistry.

The Leonard Medal recognizes McSween-s prominent role in spacecraft exploration of Mars and his research on Martian meteorites.

The Meteoritical Society, an international organization of scientists who study samples from planets, asteroids and comets, established the award in 1962 for its first president, Professor Frederick C. Leonard.

McSween, the first American to win the medal in five years, will be honored Sept. 13 at the society-s annual meeting at the Vatican Observatory in Rome, Italy.

The former head of UT-s department of geological sciences and a UT professor for 25 years, McSween was one of the first scientists to propose that a small group of meteorites found on Earth was from Mars. That originally controversial idea now is widely accepted by planetary scientists.

His research on these meteorites has improved scientists’ understanding of Martian geologic processes.

McSween, a science team member for NASA’s Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor missions, is co-investigator for the current Mars Odyssey orbiter and the Mars Exploration Rover to be launched in 2003. He also has authored several popular books on planetary science.