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 ( 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 Mika McKinnon

Mika McKinnon is a freelance scientist mixing geophysics, disasters, and fiction into a mess of irrepressible curiosity. She’s a disaster researcher deeply in love with fluid dynamics and a bit too fascinated by landslides anywhere in this weird and wild solar system.

Mika spends her time lurking on set using science to make stranger fiction, zapping the Earth into revealing its subsurface secrets, and hunting down science to share with the public. Her work has appeared in Stargate, Dark Matter, and debatably Sharknado, and for publications including BBC, New Scientist, io9, Ars Technica, Astronomy Magazine, and others.

Mika is caretaker to an adorably grouchy hedgehog, and may be a bit too fascinated with ballgowns and crinolines. After this week, you can keep up with her latest adventures at @mikamckinnon

Introducing Christy Caudill

Christy  (@christycraters) is a planetary geologist currently working on her PhD at Western University, Canada, focusing on impact cratering products and processes. With former experience in Mars spacecraft operations as a HiRISE Downlink Specialist, and a former geologist at the Arizona Geological Survey, Christy has a background in terrestrial as well as planetary geology. Her current field site is the Ries Impact Structure (Germany), where she studies the mineralogy and other aspects of the ejecta deposits. Impact craters provide a window into the subsurface of planetary bodies, with the largest structures exhuming tens of kilometers of any available rock, water, and ice. The ejecta deposits are the result of that exhumation, which redistributes this material across the surface and forms new materials under intense heat and pressure. The deposits at the Ries Impact Structure are of particular interest to her research as they represent analogies to similar impact-generated deposits on Mars. Earth-Mars comparative studies allow researchers like Christy an avenue to extrapolate past Mars climate and habitability, soil production, and subsurface volatile availability.

Introducing James Sprinks

James Sprinks is a Research Associate in Planetary Science / Human Factors at the University of Nottingham’s Geospatial Institute. His current research involves the FP7 iMars project (, the broad aims of which are to develop tools and 3D models of the Martian surface through the co-registration of NASA and ESA mission data dating from the Viking missions of the 1970’s to the present day, for a much more comprehensive interpretation of the geomorphological and climatic processes that have taken and do take place. James’ involvement concentrates on the development of a Citizen Science Platform that allows the online public to analyse change on the surface of Mars. Through doing this the aim is to better understand how task design, interface design, data presentation techniques and communication tools can be best utilised to ensure the best possible user experience whilst ensuring the data produced is still scientifically robust.

Coming from a physics and astronomy background originally, James completed his undergraduate studies at the University of Southampton. His final year dissertation involved the study of binary star systems, specifically cataclysmic dwarf novae and the prediction models associated with their behaviour. After several years working in the education sector, he returned to academia to complete a masters degree in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) through a co-ordinated scheme involving the University of Leeds, University of Southampton and Penn State University, USA. His research involved the use of GIS techniques to map the distribution and geometric properties of barchan sand dunes on the surface of Mars.

Cornish born and bred, James enjoys the outdoors, sea and sand. A keen Cornish Pirates RFC supporter, he attempts to play rugby at a sub-standard level, and badminton only slightly better! When not studying or attempting to play sport, James can be found either half way up a mountain somewhere or underneath some cats, Spotty and Optimus (he didn’t name them). You can find out about James’ research on his website:

Introducing John Debes

John Debes is an ESA/AURA astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute. He is currently the STIS Team Lead, supporting science operations for the STIS instrument on the Hubble Space Telescope.
John’s research focuses on observable signatures of planetary systems, using a variety of observational techniques. This has included high contrast imaging of protoplanetary and debris disks, the dynamics of planetary systems during the late stages of stellar evolution, and observations of white dwarfs with rocky debris disks.
In addition to the above work he is a member of the WFIRST-CGI Science Investigation team, a founding member of the citizen science website Disk Detective, a father, and a husband. The rest of the year you can find John @JohnDebes.

Reintroducing Michael Busch

Michael Busch is a research scientist at the SETI Institute.  He primarily works on characterizing near-Earth asteroids using radar and radio techniques; using the Arecibo Observatory, the Goldstone Solar System Radar, and other telescopes.  Lately, he has focused on both potentially hazardous asteroids and asteroids on orbits that are readily accessible for future space missions.

Michael received bachelor’s degrees in physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota in 2005, and a PhD in planetary science at Caltech in 2010.  He worked as a postdoc at UCLA and at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory before starting at SETI in 2013.

You can find Michael on twitter at .

Introducing Bhairavi Shankar

I am a planetary scientist living in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), Canada. My research focus throughout graduate school has been on characterizing impact craters on several planetary bodies (Earth, Moon, Venus). This includes characterizing the crater morphology and determining the compositional information of surfaces using data fusion techniques on remote sensing datasets. But my main passion has also been in being a spatial analyst – applying tools, techniques, and troubleshooting issues when it comes to properly projecting data of planetary surfaces for research. A close second passion has been to share all the cool awesome space science news and research with the general public.
I did my undergraduate degree in Planetary science at the University of Toronto, my Master’s in Geology at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and PhD in Geology (Planetary Science) at Western University. I recently wrapped up a postdoc position in nearby London, ON (Western University) and the mixed experience (long long hours, burnout, occasional feeling of work isolation, lack of work/life balance) in that role has led me to explore options beyond pure academia. While completing much overdue publications and managing family commitments, I’m looking forward to rediscovering how to continue working as a Planetary Scientist.