Topic:   Universe of Learning – Beyond the Solar System: Cosmic Disks

Date:  September 7, 2017, Thursday
Time:  12:30pm PT (3:30pm ET)
Leader: Jeffrey Nee

On September 15, 2017, the Cassini spacecraft will undergo a controlled descent into Saturn’s atmosphere, thus ending nearly 20 years of dedicated observations of the Saturnian system. Since the time of Galileo, Saturn’s rings have been a source of wonder and beauty. Astronomers now know that these celestial disks appear in many environments, from the relatively small scale (around planets) to scales of galaxies. In honor of Cassini’s mission, this Universe of Learning Science Briefing will explore some of these types of disks found beyond our Solar System. There will also be a demonstration and connection to a popular citizen science activity and a list of additional resources for you to share.


Dr. Bonnie Meinke is a content specialist in the Office of Public Outreach the Space Telescope Science Institute. Before coming to the Institute, she was the resident planetary scientist at the Fleet Science Center in San Diego, Calif. She grew up in Texas where, as they say, “the stars at night are big and bright.” Captivated by the night sky, she studied physics and astrophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her Bachelors in 2005. Bonnie went on to earn her PhD in 2012 at the University of Colorado, Boulder, where she studied moon formation in the Saturn system with the Cassini spacecraft. Her research interests include planetary rings, icy moons and solar system formation.

Dr. Rachel Akeson is a research scientist at the NASA Exoplanet Science Institute at Caltech. Her research involves using a variety of observational techniques, including interferometry at radio and sub-millimeter wavelengths to study star and planet formation.  She has worked on many NASA missions and projects including the Keck Interferometer and Kepler and is currently working on WFIRST.

Dr. Marc Kuchner is a staff member at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, known for his work on images and imaging of disks and exoplanets. Together with Wesley Traub, he invented the band-limited coronagraph. He is also known for his novel supercomputer models of planet-disk interactions, and for developing the ideas of ocean planets, carbon planets, and Helium planets. Kuchner currently serves as the principal investigator of the popular citizen science websites Disk Detective and Backyard Worlds: Planet 9. Kuchner received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard in 1994. After he earned his Ph.D. in astronomy from Caltech in 2000, Kuchner studied at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics as a Michelson Fellow, and then at Princeton University as a Hubble Fellow. He was awarded the 2009 SPIE early career achievement award for his work on coronagraphy.

Universe of Learning Facilitators:
Dr. Brandon Lawton is an astronomer in the Office of Public Outreach at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). He got his PhD in astronomy at New Mexico State University in 2008, followed by a postdoctoral position at STScI where he used Spitzer Space Telescope data to explore star formation in our neighboring galaxies, the Magellanic Clouds. Dr. Lawton has been a member of the Office of Public Outreach since 2011 where he works with the Hubble and James Webb Space Telescope education and outreach teams, as well as with the broader NASA science education and public outreach community, to deliver accurate cutting-edge science content to students, educators, and the general public.

Carolyn Slivinski is an Education Specialist at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, where she works to connect the informal education community with a wide range of resources. Carolyn first discovered informal education working for a science museum, after beginning her career as an engineer performing spacecraft analyses for a leading satellite manufacturer. She has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Rutgers University.


Training Materials:
Presentation materials will be posted on the NASA Nationwide website under “Current Telecon” at:


This professional development telecon is intended to prepare you for your upcoming presentations and events.  It is NOT to be shared LIVE in classrooms, museums or other venues.   Do NOT share the telecon call-in information (phone number, passcode, etc) with others, and do NOT TWEET OR BLOG what’s being discussed in real time.  Telecons are a time for YOU to become familiar with mission information BEFORE conducting your events.
1.      When the telecon begins, please mute your phone while the speaker is talking.
2.      If your phone doesn’t have a “mute” button, your phone may be muted by pressing “*6” (star six).
3.      The “*6” feature is a toggle; your phone may be unmuted for questions by pressing “*6” again.
4.      For technical problems encountered during the training, pressing “*0” (star zero) will signal the operator who can temporarily remove you from the telecon “room” to resolve the issue.
5.      If entering the telecon after the recording has begun, please enter SILENTLY and do not announce your name as the recording will have already begun.
6.      DO NOT place your phone on “hold” if music is played while the hold button is engaged, as the music will be heard by telecon listeners and will be disruptive to the speaker.