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 South Africa, aboard SOFIA, and in Patagonia. 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 Michele Bannister

Dr Michele Bannister is a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Victoria, in British Columbia. She specializes in searching for icy worlds in the outer Solar System, and has been involved in the discovery of more than five hundred new trans-Neptunian objects. Michele works with the Outer Solar System Origins Survey, a collaboration of nearly fifty researchers around the world, who are trying to understand the formation and evolution of the Solar System using the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope on Maunakea.

Originally from Waitara in New Zealand, Michele studied astronomy and geology for her B.Sc (Hons) as an Aurora Scholar at the University of Canterbury, including nine weeks of geophysics field work in the Dry Valleys of Antarctica. Her PhD at Mt Stromlo Observatory of the Australian National University and at Caltech used the data from a small telescope at Siding Spring to search for bright icy worlds in the southern sky. After three years on hummingbird-rich and snow-free Vancouver Island, she’ll be moving to Belfast from August to become a Research Fellow at Queens’ University. You can find her tweeting about icy worlds and the non-sidereal life at @astrokiwi.

Introducing Luke Dones

Luke grew up in San Antonio, Texas and attended Harvard, where he majored in physics. He got his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. His thesis dealt with density waves in Saturn’s rings and the photometric properties of the rings as seen in Voyager images. He did a postdoc at NASA Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley and another postdoc at CITA in Toronto. He then returned to NASA Ames, where he worked on “soft money” for seven years. Since 1999 he has worked at the Boulder office of Southwest Research Institute, where he is currently a Principal Scientist.

Luke’s research interests are mainly focused in the outer solar system, particularly the orbital dynamics of comets, Kuiper Belt objects, and planetary satellites and rings, and the impact histories of icy satellites. He is a member of the Imaging Team of the Cassini mission to Saturn.

Introducing Andy Puckett

Andy Puckett is Assistant Professor of Physics and Astronomy in the Department of Earth and Space Sciences at Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia. He grew up in the St. Louis metro area of southern Illinois, then got his bachelor’s degree in Physics & Mathematics at Vanderbilt University. He moved to Chicago, met his awesome wife (for whom asteroid (178226) Rebeccalouise is named), and earned his PhD in Astronomy & Astrophysics from the University of Chicago. They then ventured north to the University of Alaska Anchorage, where as a postdoc he developed curricula to bring authentic astronomical research projects into the undergraduate classroom. After a 3-year stint as both Assistant Professor and Director of UAA’s Planetarium & Visualization Theater, he then moved his young family again, 4,000+ miles to Georgia. They have 3 children born in 3 different states: Illinois, Alaska, and Georgia. Now they plan to stay put for a while.

Andy’s research interests lie primarily in the astrometric, photometric, and spectroscopic study of small solar system bodies for the purposes of discovery, orbital refinement, and physical characterization. His focus is on distant bodies (centaurs, transneptunians, and comets), but will study any main belt, near-earth, or trojan asteroid that comes his way. He is part of a team that has used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey to discover 44 new objects in the solar system, including five dwarf planet candidates, two of the nine known Neptune trojans, and two of the five known transneptunians with orbits extending beyond 900 AU. On his blog and in the classroom, he uses orbit uncertainty visualizations to show students that science is a process that decreases uncertainty… with time and effort!

He tweets his sciencey thoughts @astropuckett.

Introducing Meg Schwamb

This week, January 27-February 1, 2014, features Meg Schwamb. Meg is an Academia Sinica Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute of Astronomy & Astrophysics, Academia Sinica (ASIAA) in Taipei, Taiwan. She is a planetary scientist and astronomer interested in planet formation and the evolution of planetary systems including our own Solar System. She is searching for exoplanets with the Planet Hunters citizen science project, which enlists members of the general public to search for the signatures of transiting exoplanets in data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft. Meg uses the results from Planet Hunters classifications  to explore the frequencies of planetary systems. In addition, Meg is a science team member of  Planet Four , a citizen science project to study the Martian climate  by utilizing human pattern recognition to map seasonal fans on the South Pole of Mars.  Meg also has studied the small body populations of the outer Solar System in the Kuiper belt and beyond. In her spare time, she can usually be found baking and hanging out with her black cat Stella. The other 51 weeks of the year, you can find Meg at @megschwamb.