Live! from AAS 2019

January 2019

Briefing date: January 10, 2019 (12:30pm EST)


Dr. Brandon Lawton (STScI) and James Manning (Universe of Learning)


  • Dr. Erin Kara (University of Maryland/NASA GSFC)

  • Prof. dr. A.G.G.M. (Xander) Tielens (Leiden University)

  • Dr. Diana Dragomir (MIT Kavli Institute)

 Slide presentation:

Transcript and audio recording:

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Please join us for this special edition of the Universe of Learning Science Briefings! We will be live at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Seattle, where scientists will be releasing the latest findings on the universe. We’ll provide access to some of the breaking news coming out of NASA Astrophysics missions, and tie these results to NASA’s Big Questions:

  • How Does the Universe Work?

  • How Did We Get Here?

  • Are We Alone?

In addition to the new science results, we will highlight several NASA resources. Some of the resources are making their debut at the AAS meeting. There will also be opportunities for you to ask questions directly of those presenting.


Dr. Brandon Lawton is an education and outreach scientist 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, JWST, and WFIRST communications teams, as well as with the broader NASA science education community, via NASA’s Universe of Learning, to deliver accurate cutting-edge science content to learners of all ages.

Jim Manning is a science education consultant with long experience as a planetarium director, including in a museum setting. Most recently, he has served as head of the Office of Public Outreach at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, and as Executive Director of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific in San Francisco. He’s a past president of the International Planetarium Society, and has been Principal Investigator or Co-PI for a number of NASA-funded and NSF-funded programs in informal science education. He currently consults for the Universe of Learning program.

Dr. Erin Kara is an astrophysicist at the University of Maryland and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, where she is the Neil Gehrels Prize Postdoc and was a Hubble Postdoctoral Fellow. She completed her PhD in 2015 from the University of Cambridge. She studies black holes—how they grow and impact their environments. In July 2019, she will start as an Assistant Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Prof. dr. A.G.G.M. (Xander) Tielens leads a group at Leiden Observatory, the Netherlands, on the physics and chemistry of the interstellar medium of galaxies. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland, College Park. He was among the first to recognize the importance of large Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon molecules in space. He has also made important contributions to the study of interstellar ices, interstellar grain surface chemistry, processing of interstellar dust, and the physics and chemistry of gas in photodissociation regions. He is the coordinator of the Dutch Astrochemistry Network, and Editor in Chief of the scientific journal, Molecular Astrophysics, Elsevier. He was the Project Scientist of HIFI, the heterodyne instrument on board of the Herschel Space Observatory (1997-2013), the NASA Project Scientist of the Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy (SOFIA) (2005-2007), and Coordinator of “The Molecular Universe,” a Marie Curie Research and Training Network funded under the European Commission Framework Program #6 (2004-2008). In 2012, Prof. Tielens received the Spinoza premie, the highest Dutch scientific award. He is the author of the textbook “Physics and Chemistry of the Interstellar Medium" (University of Cambridge Press).

Dr. Diana Dragomir obtained her Ph.D. in Astronomy from the University of British Columbia in 2013. She was a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California Santa Barbara and at the University of Chicago. She is currently a Hubble Fellow at MIT. Dr. Dragomir’s research focuses on the demographics and atmospheres of exoplanets smaller than Neptune and orbiting bright, nearby stars. She measures their sizes with the TESS space telescopes, and their masses using a variety of ground-based observatories. She uses observations from the Hubble, Spitzer and (soon) James Webb space telescopes to investigate the atmospheres of these planets. Dr. Dragomir combines all these data to better understand the physical properties and formation of small exoplanets, and how these depend on the planets’ orbits and the properties of their host stars. Though Dr. Dragomir is from Canada, she can appreciate both cold and warm climates. She enjoys reading, cooking, hiking, climbing and skiing. She also practices pastimes that come naturally with being an astronomer, like photography and traveling.