Introducing Larry Nittler

 

Larry Nittler is a staff scientist in the Dept. of Terrestrial Magnetism of the Carnegie Institution of Washington. He is a cosmochemist and planetary scientist whose research interests span stellar evolution, nucleosynthesis, interstellar and interplanetary dust, meteorites, and the formation and evolution of planets. He earned a BA in Physics from Cornell University in 1991 and a PhD in Physics from Washington University in St. Louis in 1996. He has been on the Carnegie staff since 2001, following a postdoc at the Carnegie and two years as a staff scientist at NASA’s Goddard Spaceflight Center. His laboratory research focuses on isotopic and mineralogical properties of microscopic extraterrestrial materials including presolar grains in meteorites, interplanetary dust particles and spacecraft-returned samples, including solar wind and comet Wild 2 samples returned by the Genesis and Stardust missions, respectively. He also performs spacecraft-based remote-sensing geochemical research on planetary bodies. He led the analysis of X-ray fluorescence data for the Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous mission, which orbited asteroid Eros in 2000-2001, and for the MESSENGER mission, which orbited Mercury from 2011-2015. He also served as Deputy Principle Investigator for MESSENGER. He is on the Science Team for the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo Mercury mission, to be launched in 2018, and is a Participating Scientist on JAXA’s Hayabusa2 asteroid sample return mission. He received the Nier prize of the Meteoritical Society in 2001 and became a Fellow of the same society in 2010. Asteroid 5992 Nittler is named in his honor. In addition to his scientific research, Larry is a jazz pianist and composer who performs frequently with his soul-jazz group Dr. Nittler’s Elastic Soultastic Planet. He lives in Washington DC with his wife, physicist Rhonda Stroud, and their daughter and two cats.

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Reintroducing Jonathan Fortney

Jonathan Fortney is a Professor in the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics, University of California, Santa Cruz, and the director of their Other Worlds Laboratory (owl.ucsc.edu). He received his PhD in Planetary Sciences in 2004 from the University of Arizona and was a postdoc for 4 years at NASA Ames Research Center before starting at UC Santa Cruz in 2008.

Jonathan’s major fields of interest are the atmospheres, interiors, spectra, composition, and evolution of planets, both inside and outside the solar system.  He focuses on modeling and theory of these objects, with targets that range from terrestrial planets to brown dwarfs.  He was a member of the Kepler Science Team during its prime mission and is currently a member of the Cassini Science Team.

Introducing Cayman Unterborn

I am a 5th year Ph.D Candidate at The Ohio State University working in the School of Earth Science. My research looks at what it takes to build a habitable planet from a geologic perspective rather than the more traditional definition of the “habitable zone”. My work blends astronomy, geology and physics to understand which planetary compositions produce a planet able to sustain liquid water on its surface as well as control the carbon content of the atmosphere. On the Earth, this regulation of water/carbon is a consequence of plate tectonics, which in turn is driven by compositional differences in the mantle and an internal heat budget great enough to support interior convection. My previous work has looked at some of the extremes of this “geologic habitable zone”, such as so called “diamond planets” as well as measuring stellar Thorium abundance as a proxy for extrasolar heat budgets. The end goal of my research is to understand just how special the Earth may be with regards to it being habitable, or perhaps there are a range of compositions, perhaps even very un-Earth-like ones, that are able to produce dynamic planets capable of sustaining surface water and maybe even conditions to support life.

Introducing Gal Sarid

Gal Sarid has recently joined the Florida Space Institute, at the University of Central Florida, as an associate scientist in planetary sciences (late 2014). Before moving to the Sunshine State he spent some time as a postdoctoral research associate in the Aloha State (Institute for Astronomy and NASA Astrobiology Institute at the University of Hawaii Manoa) and The People’s Republic of Cambridge (Earth & Planetary Sciences department at Harvard). He completed his PhD in Planetary Sciences (with a heavy background in physics and astronomy) at Tel Aviv University, Israel, overlooking the Mediterranean and working with Prof. Dina Prialnik.

He works on topics involving thermal and collisional evolution of planetary bodies (comets, asteroids and terrestrial planets) and early compositional evolution in the solar system. Most of his research focuses on relating thermo-physical, chemical and dynamical properties of various small body populations to their origin conditions and evolution pathways. The ultimate goal is to understand how planetary systems arrange themselves and promote habitable conditions.

With a general inquiring sense, Gal is willing and able to chat, collaborate and work on any interesting question in the realm of planetary physics. Now let’s discuss one of the more exciting times to be involved in space exploration!