Giovanni Leone (scientist)

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Giovanni Leone (born 10 February 1967 in Agrigento, Italy)[1][2][3] is an Italian geophysicist and volcanologist. His main activity is the study of planetary geology and volcanology of the Solar System. He got the attention of many international newspapers in 2014[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12] after he proposed that Valles Marineris[13] on Mars was formed by lava and not by water.[14] In the same year he got the results of 3D computer simulations showing once more how the Martian dichotomy was formed by the southern polar giant impact (SPGI) as an alternative hypothesis to the northern polar giant impact,[15] 2D models of the SPGI were already developed by other authors since 2006. In 2016 he validated this hypothesis with the discovery of 12 volcanic alignments in the southern hemisphere of Mars as the 3D SPGI model predicted.[16] His observations of the outflow channels and the fluvial networks spreading from the volcanoes, coupled to the presence of unaltered olivine since the Noachian age, are challenging the past views of a warm and wet Mars.

Early life

His father Giuseppe was a policeman and his mother Rosalia Gandolfo was an housewife. After the first six years spent in Agrigento, where his father worked in the local Prefettura, his family moved to their original home town of Palermo in Sicily. As a child he showed great interest for science. During his years at the primary school he got fascinated by the stars and started to draw on an exercise book the constellations observed in the sky. At the age of 15, his father gifted him a portable Newton telescope (11.4 cm of diameter and 90 cm of focal length) and he started to observe the sky both from home and from the Madonie mountains with his school pal and astrophotographer Carmelo Zannelli.[17] Together they observed the Halley's Comet during the passage of 1986 and took several pictures with their small Newton telescopes from a parking lot of Piano Battaglia in the Madonie mountains (Central Sicily).


From 1986, year of his Liceo Scientifico diploma, he started to turn his interest towards the planets of the Solar System with particular attention to the rocky planets of the inner solar system. At this point he thought that only the study of the Geological Sciences would have helped him to better understand the internal structures of the planets. So he decided to register at the master course of Geological Sciences at the University of Palermo with specialization in geophysics. After he got his master's degree in Geological Sciences he decided to have an experience of popularization of astronomy on TV.

In the years from 1993 to 1995 he co-authored and anchored on local TV of Palermo, Canale 21, two programs entitled “A come Astronomia” and “Nova”[no citations needed here], answering the questions of the public on air. These are the years in which he started to have the first doubts about the existence of water on Mars.

In 1996 he started his first PhD at Lancaster University (UK) under the supervision of Lionel Wilson. In 1997, due to the lack of funding, he changed his registration at Lancaster University into part-time and returned to Palermo in order to stay near to his family and continue his studies from there.

In 2001, he got the opportunity of a paid research position at the University of Lecce (Italy) to work at the preliminary studies of the Spirit mission to Mars in collaboration with the NASA Ames Research Center.[18] One year later, always related to family needs, he returned to Palermo in order to stay with his family and at the same time to finish his first PhD, which was put on hold in the meanwhile.

In 2007 he finally got his first PhD and one year later was invited by the NASA JPL in Pasadena for a talk about Io science, the main theme of his PhD thesis related to the Galileo mission to Jupiter. After three years of unsuccessful search for a paid position worldwide, he decided to take another PhD at the ETH Zurich in order to complete his knowledge of the planets from the surface to the core and have a good income to help the family. Strengthened by the previous experience obtained during the first PhD and the research position, these are his most prolific years from the scientific point of view. These are the years in which he used the software of his supervisor Paul James Tackley and of the collaborator Taras Gerya to model in 3D the southern polar giant impact (SPGI) on Mars. This experience, started as a mere test of the I3ELVIS and StagYY thermomechanical codes, turned into an amazing series of discoveries that changed the way Mars should be seen today.

In 2013 he named the following volcanoes on Mars[no citations needed here], names then approved by the Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature: Aonia Mons,[19] Aonia Tholus,[20] Electris Mons,[21] Eridania Mons,[22] Sirenum Mons,[23] Sirenum Tholus.[24] In 2014 he published the results of his 3D modelling work of the Martian dichotomy and the results of his study of Valles Marineris as a volcanic channel produced by the erosion of lava. In 2016 he validated the SPGI hypothesis through the discovery of 12 volcanic alignments on the surface of Mars. After his second PhD and two more years of unemployment, an unexpected opportunity came from Chile where Mauro Barbieri built from scratch a new Institute of Astronomy and Planetary Sciences[25] at the University of Atacama[26]

Current days

Giovanni Leone currently serves as the director of the Institute of Astronomy and Planetary Sciences at the Universidad de Atacama[27]. Also, he is carrying out professorship in planetary geology and volcanology at the same institution with several projects of interdisciplinary research between astronomy and planetary sciences. He's also Guest Editor of the Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research[no citations needed here].


  1. ORCID. "Giovanni Leone (0000-0003-1479-9039) - ORCID | Connecting Research and Researchers" (in en). 
  2. Leone, Giovanni. "Scopus - Leone, Giovanni" (in en-US). 
  3. "Giovanni Leone | Mendeley" (in en-GB). 
  4. "Lava, not water, formed canyons on Mars". 
  5. "The two faces of Mars" (in en). 
  6. Wylie, Robin. "Giant Asteroid Collision May Have Radically Transformed Mars" (in en). Scientific American. 
  7. Meyer, Guido (2015-03-16). "Einschlag ließ Mars einst zur Hälfte schmelzen". DIE WELT. 
  8. "Der leblose Planet" (in de). 2015-08-06. ISSN 0174-4917. 
  9. Burks, Robin (2015-01-31). "Why Mars' Two Hemispheres Are Drastically Different" (in en). Tech Times. 
  10. K, Jayalakshmi (2015-01-31). "Mars: 'Water gullies' indicate glaciers advanced and retreated many times" (in en). International Business Times UK. 
  11. Wylie, Robin. "Giant Asteroid Collision May Have Radically Transformed Mars" (in en). Scientific American. 
  12. Clark, Stuart (2015-09-28). "Water on Mars: Nasa reveals briny flows on surface - as it happened" (in en-GB). The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. 
  13. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Mars Exploration: Valles Marineris
  14. Leone, Giovanni (2014-05-01). "A network of lava tubes as the origin of Labyrinthus Noctis and Valles Marineris on Mars". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 277: 1–8. Bibcode 2014JVGR..277....1L. Template:Citation error. ISSN 0377-0273. 
  15. Leone, Giovanni; Tackley, Paul J.; Gerya, Taras V.; May, Dave A.; Zhu, Guizhi (2014-12-26). "Three-dimensional simulations of the southern polar giant impact hypothesis for the origin of the Martian dichotomy". Geophysical Research Letters 41 (24): 8736–8743. Bibcode 2014GeoRL..41.8736L. Template:Citation error. ISSN 0094-8276. 
  16. Leone, Giovanni (2016-01-01). "Alignments of volcanic features in the southern hemisphere of Mars produced by migrating mantle plumes". Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 309: 78–95. Bibcode 2016JVGR..309...78L. Template:Citation error. ISSN 0377-0273. 
  17. Zannelli, Carmelo. "Carmelo Zannelli – Astrophotographer" (in it-IT). 
  19. "Planetary Names: Mons, montes: Aonia Mons on Mars" (in en). 
  20. "Planetary Names: Tholus, tholi: Aonia Tholus on Mars" (in en). 
  21. "Planetary Names: Mons, montes: Electris Mons on Mars" (in en). 
  22. "Planetary Names: Mons, montes: Eridania Mons on Mars" (in en). 
  23. "Planetary Names: Mons, montes: Sirenum Mons on Mars" (in en). 
  24. "Planetary Names: Tholus, tholi: Sirenum Tholus on Mars" (in en). 
  26. "Universidad de Atacama" (in es-es). 
  27. "Faculty".