New RFs 2021 - Space Science Faculty
Research Fellows in Space Science 2021
Eleni Bohacek | Katja Fahrion | Maximilian N. Günther | Laura A. Hayes | Chris Nelson
Quentin Nénon | Anna Francesca Pala | Lucie Riu | Victor See | Jack Wright
Hosted at ESTEC
Proposal title: Geological mapping of ExoMars landing sites assisted by machine learning
Eleni studied Earth sciences at University College London (UCL) and did her masters and PhD at the UCL-Cambridge Centre for Doctoral Training in Integrated Photonic and Electronic Systems. Her doctoral research focussed on the stereo camera systems onboard the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin Rover and their 3-D capabilities when used together. She built hardware emulators of these instruments and modelled uncertainty and errors in multi-view stereo systems.
Eleni’s work at ESA will now focus on geological mapping, a key method to explore Mars’ rich history of aqueous environments, which may have once hosted life. Her project aims to analyse remote sensing data of Mars using machine learning techniques, to use the results of this analysis to assist geological mapping, and to explore the potential implications for the planet’s aqueous environments. Her work will involve training a classifier on multiple modalities of remote sensing data and geological maps made by humans, in addition to clustering analysis. Eleni is particularly interested in mapping aeolian bedforms, which reveal insights into landscape evolution, and in mapping the clay-bearing sedimentary rocks at the ExoMars landing site, which record the 4-billion-year-old aqueous history of Mars.
Hosted at ESTEC
Proposal title: Assembly histories of galaxies with nuclear star clusters and globular clusters
Katja grew up in Ulm, a town in southern Germany, and went to study physics at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. After obtaining her Master’s degree, she moved to Munich, Germany, for her PhD in astronomy at the European Southern Observatory and the Ludwig-Maximilians University.
Katja’s research focuses on star clusters - dense concentrations of sometimes millions of stars that might hold a fossil record of the formation and evolution of the galaxy they live in. Due to their brightness, dense star clusters can be observed in distant galaxies. In her project, Katja aims to study the connection between dense star clusters and galaxies to explore what their properties can tell us about the assembly history of the host galaxy. To do so, she will combine NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope data with ground-based observations to study star clusters located in various different environments, from those in low-mass dwarf galaxies to the ones found in the dense nuclei of massive galaxies.
Maximilian N. Günther
Hosted at ESTEC
Proposal title: FLEXOBILITY: Advancing our understanding of the link between stellar flares and exoplanet habitability
Maximilian is an astrophysicist hunting for potentially habitable worlds around other stars (exoplanets). His multidisciplinary career let him explore a breadth of research fields before joining ESA: He started by studying physics in Würzburg, Germany, writing his bachelor's thesis on intense radiation sources near black holes (mega-masers). Broadening his horizons, he then moved continents for his Master's and researched genetic diseases in a biophysics lab in Austin, TX, USA. Maximilian finally joined the exoplanet field, obtaining his PhD working with Nobel-laureate Didier Queloz in Cambridge, UK. He continued and expanded this research autonomously as a Torres Fellow at MIT, MA, USA.
Throughout, Maximilian became fascinated by the quest to find Earth-sized exoplanets around small stars - and the big question of how stellar outbursts (flares) from these stars impact the habitability of their planets. To this end, his research vision combines exoplanet observations with stellar physics and laboratory astrobiology. Maximilian first will leverage optical data from space- and ground-based observatories to identify the best candidates using machine learning. He then aims to use simultaneous coverage with ESA's XMM-Newton and NASA/ESA Hubble space telescopes to add X-ray/UV insights. With this, he ultimately seeks to identify which exoplanets might receive the right X-ray/UV flare energy to trigger and sustain life.
Laura A. Hayes
Hosted at ESTEC
Proposal title: Quasi-periodic pulsations - a key to understanding solar flare energy release
Laura received an undergraduate degree in theoretical physics from Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, and soon after joined the astrophysics research group at Trinity to complete her PhD in solar flare physics. Following this, she joined NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in 2019 as a postdoctoral fellow where she continued to work on solar flares with a focus on X-ray observations of flare emission.
Laura’s project aims to build towards a better understanding of energy release and heating processes that occur in the atmosphere of the Sun during a solar flare. In particular, her research focuses on the X-ray time-variability associated with solar flare emission, and how this variability can be utilized to further constrain the physical models of solar flares. Her project will take advantage of the new and unique observations from the instrument suite onboard ESA’s Solar Orbiter, and will use these observations to make new discoveries about the true nature and underpinning physical mechanisms of time-dependent signatures in solar flare emission.
Hosted at ESTEC
Proposal title: Novel approaches to understanding heating in the upper solar atmosphere
Chris studied Mathematics at the University of Sheffield, UK, before undertaking a PhD in solar physics in conjunction between Armagh Observatory and the University of Sheffield. Since completing his PhD, Chris has worked as a post-doctoral researcher at both Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Sheffield, primarily studying localised burst behaviour in the solar atmosphere using high-resolution imaging and spectro-polarimetric data, sampled by both ground-based telescopes and space-borne satellites. These bursts (known by many names depending on their specific spectral characteristics) are widely believed to be the observational signatures of magnetic reconnection, the energetic and explosive restructuring of the local magnetic field.
Chris’ project aims to better understand the dynamics of energy release in the solar atmosphere on the smallest scales currently observable. Specifically, he will constrain the frequency of small-scale burst events in the quiet Sun, active regions, and coronal holes, and investigate whether these events can provide diagnostic capabilities for forecasting larger flares. This research will use observations collected by IRIS and ESA's brand-new Solar Orbiter satellite to study both UV bursts, dynamic events with temperatures of around 80000K, and the exciting new campfire phenomena, with temperatures of up to several million Kelvin.
Hosted at ESTEC
Proposal title: Anisotropy of energetic electrons in the radiation belts of Jupiter
During his PhD at ONERA in Toulouse, France, Quentin deciphered the origin and life of high-energy electrons and ions trapped in the radiation belts of the giant planet Jupiter. He then worked as a postdoc at U. C. Berkeley in California, USA, on the weathering of planetary surfaces of Earth’s Moon and Phobos, Mars’ larger moon, by ions in space. Quentin’s work combined space mission data analysis with computer simulations.
Quentin’s project aims to prepare for ESA’s JUICE mission that will observe Jupiter’s radiation belt’s in unprecedented resolution. To do so, he will analyze and characterize the anisotropy of energetic electrons in the radiation belts as observed in-situ by NASA’s Galileo and Juno missions. This effort is needed not only to advance our understanding of high-energy electron physics at magnetized planets, but also to constrain the electron-induced alteration of the Jovian icy moon surfaces.
Anna Francesca Pala
Hosted at ESAC
Proposal title: Accreting white dwarfs as telltales on binary evolution and Type Ia supernova progenitors
Anna grew up in Sardinia, Italy. After receiving her bachelor in Physics from the University of Cagliari, she completed a master degree in Astrophysics at the University of Trieste. She then moved to the University of Warwick (UK), where she obtained her PhD in 2018. Anna’s first postdoc was at the European Southern Observatory in Garching, Germany.
Anna's research focuses on understanding the evolution of compact interacting stellar binary systems. To this end, she studies accreting white dwarfs, binaries in which matter from a companion star is transferred onto a white dwarf. These systems are relatively bright and numerous in our Galaxy and thus represent the best laboratory to constrain the key ingredients of the models describing the evolution of all types of compact binaries. As an ESA fellow, Anna will use both space- and ground-based observatories to carry out a multi-wavelength study of accreting white dwarfs. She will in particular use ESA’s XMM-Newton and Gaia missions as well as the NASA/ESA Hubble Space telescope. Her aim is to obtain a full insight into the physical mechanism driving the evolution of accreting white dwarfs, which is key to unveil their intimate connection with Supernova Type Ia explosions and to constrain the evolution of all mass exchanging binaries.
Hosted at ESAC
Proposal title: In the search of past surface habitability potential at Mars
Lucie discovered astrophysics during her first internship during her bachelor in applied physics. She followed-up with a master and PhD in Planetary Science at the Institut d'Astrophysique Spatiale (IAS) in Orsay, France, focusing her research on Mars. Before joining ESA, Lucie was a post-doc at the JApanese eXploration Agency (JAXA) for three years, studying the mineralogy of the primitive asteroid Ryugu.
Lucie's project aims at supporting the future Martian exploration and sample return from the red planet with an emphasis on understanding its past exobiological potential. She will use spectroscopy data taken from the orbit by ESA’s Mars Express and ExoMars missions to characterize and quantify the hydrated mineralogy detected in regions of interest for in situ exploration, such as prospective landing and sampling sites. By characterizing the minerals that formed under potentially habitable conditions, in context with geomorphological settings and in situ measurements, Lucie will work at building new criterions to assess the exobiological potential of Mars. Her work will bring insights onto the vast questions regarding the emergence of life in our Solar System.
Hosted at ESTEC
Proposal title: The rotation and activity evolution of late M dwarfs and their impact on exoplanet atmospheres
Victor earned his degree in physics at Imperial College London, UK. Subsequently, he completed his PhD at the University of St Andrews, UK, where his research focused on understanding the magnetic activity of low-mass stars. Victor’s first postdoc was at the University of Exeter, UK where he investigated the link between stellar magnetic fields and rotation evolution.
Victor’s project first aims to understand the rotation and activity evolution of the lowest mass stars in the universe, known as late M dwarfs. His second goal is to investigate the impact of late M dwarf activity on the atmospheres of exoplanets orbiting them. In comparison to stars more similar in mass to our Sun, late M dwarfs spend much more of their lives with high magnetic activity. Victor’s research will explore the implications of this extended period of high activity on exoplanet atmospheres and improve our understanding of exoplanetary habitability in late M dwarf systems. It will also aid the interpretation of future observations made with NASA/ESA/CSA James Webb Telescope and ESA’s ARIEL mission.
Hosted at ESAC
Proposal title: Countdown to BepiColombo’s arrival at Mercury
Jack studied natural sciences specialising in geology at the University of Cambridge, UK (2011–2015). He then moved to the Open University (OU), UK for his PhD where he made the first geological map of the Hokusai quadrangle of Mercury (2015–2019). He continued his planetary mapping work during his first postdoctoral position at the OU as part of the EU Horizon 2020-funded PLANMAP project (2019–2021). His second postdoctoral project involved working with AI-generated terrain classifications of Mars rover landing sites in preparation for the ESA’s ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover mission (2021).
At ESA, Jack will continue his research into the geological history of Mercury and create maps and feature catalogues that will be later used by the ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission to Mercury. To do so, he will use data from NASA’s MESSENGER mission to conduct remote-sensing studies of Mercury’s volcanic plains and their relationship with impact cratering through geological time. He will also investigate volatile-driven processes on Mercury such as hollow formation and explosive volcanism.
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Last modified: 30 August 2021