Happy Space Day!


Whelp, folks, it’s Friday AND Space Day, so we are extra tickled about this delightful double whammy. Did you know that the original one-day event of Space Day was started by Lockheed Martin Corporation to get America’s youth more interested in math and science? Pfffft, me neither.
Founded in 1997, this day was created to encourage our whipper snappers to get more involved in observing and interacting with the many wonders the vast Universe has to offer. Since space is such a riveting and widespread topic of interest, Space Day became an annual event; and to make it even more official and expansive, former astronaut and Senator John Glenn dubbed it International Space Day in 2001.
Black and white photograph of astronaut John Glenn, photo credit NASA
(Photo Credit : NASA)
Although this holiday is celebrated on the first Friday in May, we know space-related love can be shown any day of the week and any time of year. So as you’re gearing up for summer break, don’t forget to plan on visiting a science center or observatory, camping under the stars with your telescope, reading books or watching documentaries about the endless awe that is our solar system and sharing every bit of it with the people you adore. And even the ones who you only like a little – they probably reeeally need it, too.
As for my act of love today, I will pay homage to this heavenly holiday that places focus on the excitement of everything space-related in my own nerdy wordy way. How so, you ask? By happily highlighting the very charming and admirable Dr. Carly Howett, who recently made our solar system bib necklace gorgeously mini-famous during an interview on the Science Network.
Dr. Carly Howett wearing Yugen Tribe Solar System Bib Pendant Necklace
Apparently she has pretty typical interests, like running, cycling, swimming, climbing and camping. Even reading and playing piano. A seemingly normal person with normal hobbies. Except she’s a planetary scientist. Who rocks our jewelry [insert synchronized squeals of joy from Lauren and myself].
Dr. Howett, originally from the UK, is the Assistant Director of the Department of Space Studies at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado. Her area of focus is the surface properties of icy worlds, which I think is extra cool. Pun intended. The frosty friends on her research list include Saturn’s icy moons, Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids, Europa, Pluto and Charon.

Other snazzy specific scientific positions Carly can add to her growing resume are: Deputy Principal Investigator of the Ralph Instrument for New Horizons (to Pluto); Instrument Scientist on NASA’s upcoming Lucy mission (to Jupiter’s asteroids - read more here); and Co-Investigator for two other NASA missions, former Cassini (to Saturn) and future Europa Clipper (to Jupiter’s moon Europa). How did she significantly contribute to the Cassini mission, you ask? I’ll tell ya.
The Cassini spacecraft spent 13 years in orbit around Saturn, until it literally ran out of gas in 2017 [insert bad dad joke about hybrid cars here]. Dr. Howett’s instrument, the composite infrared spectrometer, was pivotal in gathering data about Saturn’s icy moons. She was responsible for analyzing this data and, in doing so, discovered thermal anomalies that make the infrared patterns of the moons Mimas and Tethys that resemble Pac-Man. Of course I looked it up, and yeah, it’s neat-o and nostalgic.
Pac-Man Mimas  and Tethys Moon Heat Graph Image from NASA
(Image Credit: NASA)
During this same mission, Howett determined that another of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, is very porous. How porous, you ask? (You guys are posing a lot of great questions, thank you) “Much more porous than freshly fallen snow,” she says. “If you were to put your hand on top of this and push down, your hand would go a long way into the surface. It wouldn’t put up much resistance at all.” I found this to be very fascinating, so I had to share.
An additional endearing tidbit about Carly is that she assisted with the production of the first ever color images of Pluto, and its moon Charon, in 2015. The New Horizons spacecraft left the NASA nest ten years prior and traveled 3 billion miles to capture the magnificent images of these mysterious bodies.
Color photo of Pluto, Credit NASA
(Image credit: NASA)
As Howett says, “…when you look at Pluto and you look at Charon, there are these areas that are completely smooth. That’s telling us that these areas have been resurfaced at some point in their history. And these bodies are so far from the sun, and there’s no big planet nearby.” She goes on to explain, “Lots of bodies about the same size as Pluto and Charon have a kind of parent planet, if you like. Pluto doesn’t have that. It’s sort of lonely in the back end of the solar system. Because it doesn’t have this energy source, we were expecting it not to have geology. And it does.”
I love a good underdog story, and I personally love little Pluto – it’s only 1/6th the size of Earth! I just want to tuck that cuteness in my pocket and hold onto it forever and ever. Oh wait, I can. And you can, too! Thank you, Carly, for helping to make this possible! You’re da best.
I’ll close this piece by sharing some of our featured shero’s answers to an interview by the UK-based Eastern Daily Press in December of last year since everyone loves a chummy Q&A sesh. Best day of Carly’s life (up until that point)? “My wedding day, followed by the birth of our daughter, followed by the New Horizons Pluto encounter, and making an image that went from my desktop to being retweeted six hours later by the President of the USA was pretty special.” Yes, President Obama, you were pretty special.
Who does this exceptional woman admire most? “My mum. She taught me kindness, empathy and love for people. She also has an amazing sense of humor. My siblings are a close second. My sister went from almost dropping out of high school to becoming an accountant. She’s proof that anything is possible. And my brother overcame a brain tumor to go into get a Ph.D. in neuroscience, in part to better understand his experience. I’m very proud of them both.”
Something people don’t know about Carly (but do now, I guess)? “I’m still quite scared of the dark and don’t like the cold, which are rubbish traits in an astronomer.” Biggest indulgence? “British chocolate.” What she likes most about her work? “The outreach I do, particularly with girls. I think it’s important for them to see successful women scientists.” Favorite tipple (which is what I will be calling adult beverages from this point on because it’s adorable)? “A good glass of red wine, G&T, or a Pimms in the summer.” I like this woman. A lot.  
Dr. Carly Howett, Planetary Scientist - Image credit: JHUAPL/SwRI
(Image credit: JHUAPL/SwRI)
Cheers, Carly, from this space (and G&T) lovin’ lady; and from all the other kindred spirits out there who are rooting for you and your amazing scientific breakthroughs that will undoubtedly blow our beautiful minds. Thank you for your charisma, cosmic contributions, and exceptional taste in jewelry.
Stay tuned for our next post about International Astronaut's Day!
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