(Re-)Introducing Simon Porter

Simon Porter (@ascendingnode) is a Research Scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. He is a Co-Investigator on NASA’s New Horizons extended mission to encounter the cold classical Kuiper Belt Object (KBO) 2014 MU69. On the mission, he focuses on the small satellites of Pluto, determining the orbit of 2014 MU69, and the other KBOs that New Horizons is passing along the way. This summer, he is supporting the stellar occultations of MU69s in Senegal. In addition to mission work, he studies the orbital and tidal dynamics of other binary and triple KBOs and Centaurs.

Simon is originally from Burlington, Ontario, Canada, and grew up there, Oxfordshire, and Tennessee. He received a BS in Physics from the University of Alabama in Huntsville, and was a undergrad Space Grant intern at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He received his PhD in Astrophysics from the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University, and was a Predoctoral Fellow at Lowell Observatory. Simon enjoys hiking, aerospace history, and identifying obscure aircraft/rockets/spacecraft.


Introducing Jessie Christiansen

Dr. Jessie Christiansen (@aussiastronomer) is a research scientist at the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at Caltech. She searches for, studies, and catalogues extrasolar planets — planets orbiting other stars. Her main research focuses on using the thousands of exoplanets found by the NASA Kepler and K2 missions to determine how common planets similar to the Earth might be throughout the Galaxy, and she is getting ready to do the same with the NASA TESS mission.

She is an avid science communicator, and is particularly engaged with reaching and elevating under-represented minorities in the sciences. When she is more engaged with this particular planet, she is chasing her twin 3-year-olds around, enjoying various sci-fi/fantasy fandoms, and is married to fellow astronomer @PFHopkins_Astro.

Introducing Peter Boorman

Peter Boorman (@boorm) is a PhD student at the University of Southampton in the UK, where he currently studies hidden monster supermassive black holes actively growing at the centres of galaxies.  These black holes grow by eating material surrounding them which can also act to conceal the active galactic nucleus (AGN) from our view.  This is why Peter relies on high-energy X-ray vision (courtesy of X-ray telescopes in space such as @NASANuSTAR!) to be able to stare through the obscuring layers of gas concealing the AGN, and reveal the hungry black hole lurking beneath.  However, much like Superman’s X-ray vision being blocked by lead, the densest and thickest layers of obscuring gas can even stop the highest energy X-rays from escaping some heavily obscured black holes.
Despite their apparent rarity, it is predicted that there are a very high number of these hiding supermassive black holes out there in the Universe that just haven’t been found yet.  These AGN are essential for understanding the evolution of all supermassive black holes, and hence all galaxies hosting them since the dawn of the Universe over 13 billion years ago.  With observations of galaxies in the local Universe, Peter will figure out how many obscured AGN there are on average, and how many have been missed in the past.  When Peter isn’t spying on the most obscured black hole banquets in the Universe, he enjoys baking cakes and cooking lots of different recipes, as well as running long distances to burn it off!

Introducing Stephanie Hamilton

Stephanie Hamilton (@StephHamy820) is a PhD student in physics at the University of Michigan, though she considers herself an adult-onset astronomer. She is studying the orbits of the small bodies beyond Neptune in order learn more about the Solar System’s formation and evolution. As an additional perk, she gets to travel the world as part of the Dark Energy Survey Collaboration and has acquired several new stamps in her passport over the past few years.


Stephanie is also a passionate science communicator, spending a large part of whatever free time she gets talking to kids about astronomy at the University of Michigan’s Natural History Museum or at the Detroit Zoo, writing articles for Astrobites or the Michigan Science Writers, and helping train other scientists to communicate their research through the ComSciCon franchise (specifically ComSciCon-MI 2018, for which she is a leading organizer) or the RELATE organization at Michigan.


When she’s not studying the outer solar system or telling people about it, she loves to play tennis, practice yoga, plan future travel adventures, or force her cat to cuddle with her.

Introducing Kendall Sullivan

Kendall Sullivan (@kendall_sull) is a research assistant at Lowell Observatory, in Flagstaff, AZ. Her research currently focuses on star-disk interactions in young binary stars, especially the various weird ways material can accrete onto young binaries, and how evolving in a binary affects young stars’ evolution. Before working at Lowell, Kendall received her BS in Physics and Astronomy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where she studied the magnetic fields of edge-on spiral galaxies and gaseous companions to starbursting dwarf galaxies before discovering how cool young stars are. In August, Kendall will be moving to the Astronomy PhD program at the University of Texas at Austin. Kendall currently spends most of the time she’s not working on her own research working on other people’s research, but outside of the office she enjoys cooking, drinking good beer, and picking up heavy things (and setting them back down).

Introducing Cathy Olkin

Cathy Olkin (@colkin) is a planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, CO. Her main topic of research is the outer solar system, specifically planetary atmospheres and surfaces.  She is the Deputy Project Scientist for NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. The New Horizons mission provided the first close-up images of Pluto and its moons in 2015. It is currently en route to encounter a close classical Kuiper Belt object nicknamed Ultima Thule. She is also the Deputy Principal Investigator for NASA’s Lucy mission. The Lucy mission will be the first spacecraft to visit the Trojan asteroids. Cathy also carries out ground-based observations including stellar occultations to learn about the size and atmosphere of small worlds and is the current Chair of the Division for Planetary Science of the American Astronomical Society.

In her free time, Cathy mentors FIRST robotics programs providing hands-on STEM education for students from 4th grade to 12th grade.

(Re)introducing 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 all over the inner solar system, from dwarf planets to objects that can fit inside a sports stadium.

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, including serving as Investigation Lead for the DART mission scheduled to conduct a planetary defense demonstration in 2022. Finally, Andy is the Principal Investigator of the MANTIS mission concept, which if selected by NASA will conduct an asteroid tour in the 2020s.

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