Cathy Olkin

Cathy Olkin

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Asteroid Day Affiliation:   

Dr. Cathy Olkin studies planetary bodies using ground-based telescopes and robotic spacecraft. She is the Deputy Principal Investigator (DPI) of NASA’s Lucy mission to the Trojan asteroids which, over 12 years, will visit 7 Trojan asteroids and one main belt asteroid. Working on spacecraft missions combines her background in engineering with her scientific interests. She holds a B.S. (MIT) and M.S. (Stanford) degrees in Aeronautics and Astronautics and a PhD. (MIT) in Planetary Science. 

As DPI, Cathy works to ensure that the flight system can achieve the science objectives of the mission including understanding the geology, surface composition, bulk properties, and thermal properties of these asteroids while also searching for new satellites. Cathy also uses ground-based observations to understand the size and composition of small bodies in our solar system. She enjoys chasing stellar occultation observations (when a planetary body passes in front of a star from our perspective on earth) to learn about the size and shape of Trojan asteroids.

She is also the Principal Investigator for the Ralph instrument on NASA’s New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond. Ralph is a color imager and infrared imaging spectrometer. From Ralph, we learned that the large glacier on Pluto’s surface is predominantly filled with nitrogen ice. There is a next-generation Ralph instrument on the Lucy spacecraft that will provide data on the surface composition of the Trojan asteroids.

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