Introducing Kristin Block

This week, February 24-March 1, 2014, features Kristin Block. Kristin is a planetary scientist at the University of Arizona Lunar and Planetary Laboratory. Kristin works on spacecraft science operations, at the point where science and engineering meet. She is currently a Senior Targeting Specialist for the HiRISE (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, where she designs and commands observations of the surface, other spacecraft and landed assets, and the occasional passing comet. She’s proud to be part of the group that has won a NASA team award for its unprecedented images of Mars and new views into how the planet changes with time.

Kristin was a member of the Phoenix Mars Lander Optical Microscope team and has worked in laboratory-based astrobiology, researching the effects of lightning and meteorites on elements necessary for life. Planetary science is Kristin’s second career; before returning to grad school she performed and taught upright bass.

The other 51 weeks of the year, you can find Kristin at @MarsMaven.

Introducing Sarah Hörst

This week, February 17-22, 2014, features  Sarah Hörst. Sarah is currently a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow working in the research group of Dr. Margaret Tolbert at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Sarah considers herself to be a planetary atmospheric chemist interested in any atmosphere besides present day Earth’s (although that is changing too!). Sarah spends most of her time studying the complex chemistry that leads to the formation of a thick organic haze layer in the atmosphere of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. Sarah is trying to understand the processes that lead to the formation of haze, the composition of Titan’s haze, and what all of those things mean for chemistry that leads to the origin of life on Earth or elsewhere in the Universe. To do this, Sarah runs experimental simulations of haze formation in the laboratory in addition to computer modeling of planetary atmospheres. Sarah also works with K12 teachers to help them use planetary science in their classroom because planetary science can be used as a gateway to so many other STEM fields. In September, Sarah will be starting as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Johns Hopkins University.The other 51 weeks of the year, you can find Sarah at   @PlanetDr.

Introducing Andy Rivkin

This week, February 10-15, 2014, features Andy Rivkin.  Andy is a planetary astronomer at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, MD, with his research focusing on the composition of asteroids. In particular, he is interested in those asteroids that have evidence of water or organic materials in them, detectable in their infrared reflectance spectrum. This pursuit has led to studies of asteroids from 1996 FG3, a near-Earth asteroid on which clay minerals has been found, to 24 Themis, an asteroid in the outer belt on which his team found water ice– a first for asteroids. He has had particular interest in the dwarf planet Ceres, producing several papers in the past few years detailing its unusual composition and variation across its surface, as well as writing a focus paper for the Planetary Science Decadal Survey.

In addition to observational work, Andy has been active in the broader near-Earth object community, serving as a team member in several efforts to understand and report the impact hazard we face and how to lessen it, and leading a group reporting to NASA about the most important unknown factors related to human exploration of an asteroid.

The other 51 weeks of the year, you can find Andy at @asrivkin.

Introducing Kevin Schawinski

This week, February 3-8, 2014, features Kevin Schawinski. Kevin is an assistant professor at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland (ETHZ). His research focuses on supermassive black holes. Where do they come from, how do they grow, and how do they shape the galaxies they live in? Almost all galaxies have a supermassive black hole at their center and these black holes seem to be linked to their host galaxies in such a fundamental way that we’re not sure what was there first: the black hole, or the galaxy. Kevin uses data from pretty much all wavelengths, from ultra-hard X-rays to the radio to tackle these questions. Kevin is also the co-founder of the Galaxy Zoo and regularly gives outreach talks in Switzerland. You can find him on Twitter at @kevinschawinski