Alex Harrison Parker | Planetary Astronomy

Planetary Astronomer, University of California at Berkeley

Research scientist in planetary astronomy at the Southwest Research Institute, supporting NASA's New Horizons mission to Pluto, and developing the post-Pluto mission into the Kuiper Belt. Expert in the dynamics of binary minor planets, detection and characterization of trans-Neptunian objects, and the origin of the architecture of our Solar System.

Higher Education

Doctor of Philosophy in Astronomy: 2011

University of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.

Bachelors of Science in Physics & Astronomy; Honors in Astronomy: 2007

University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.

Associates in Arts and Science, Physics; Honors: 2005

Whatcom Community College, Bellingham, WA, USA.


PhD Details

“Ultra-Wide Trans-Neptunian Binaries: Tracers of the Outer Solar System’s History”

Advisor: Dr. JJ Kavelaars, Canadian Astronomy Data Centre, National Research Council of Canada

Enrolled September 2007; Defended July 2011; Awarded November 2011.


Professional Appointments

Southwest Research Institute - Senior Research Scientist

2017 — Present. SwRI Space Sciences division, Boulder, CO.

Director of the NASA SSERVI node Project ESPRESSO. Principal Investigator of multi-cycle Hubble Space Telescope program to study the moons of the Kuiper Belt dwarf planets Makemake and 2007 OR10. Co-Investigator on the New Horizons Kuiper Belt Extended Mission to 2014 MU69.

Southwest Research Institute - Research Scientist

2015 — 2017. SwRI Space Sciences division, Boulder, CO.

Ongoing support for the New Horizons Pluto mission, post-Pluto/Kuiper Belt mission development. PI of Flicker mission development. HST studies of the Kuiper Belt luminosity function and satellites of dwarf planets.

Southwest Research Institute - Postdoctoral Fellow

2014 — 2015. SwRI Space Sciences division, Boulder, CO.

Ongoing support for the New Horizons Pluto mission, and post-Pluto/Kuiper Belt mission development.

University of California at Berkeley - Postdoctoral Fellow

2013 — 2014. University of California at Berkeley, Dept. of Astronomy, Berkeley CA.

Ongoing support for New Horizons post-Pluto/Kuiper Belt mission development. Team leader for nine-member binary working group for CFHT-OSSOS Large Program. Developing Approximate Bayesian Computation methods for minor planet population synthesis. Supervised by Dr. Imke de Pater.

New Horizons Outer Solar System Science Fellow

2011 — 2013. Harvard-Smithsonian CfA, Inst. for Theory & Computation, Cambridge MA.

Survey specialist; searching for candidate Kuiper Belt Objects for NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft to visit after 2015 Pluto encounter. Algorithm development, survey image analysis, trajectory analysis, target orbit and physical characterization. Manage central astrometry database. Science case development for remote- sensing observations of Kuiper Belt Objects at medium range (0.1-0.5 AU). Supervised by Dr. Matthew Holman.

National Science Foundation — Graduate Research Fellow Abroad

2008 — 2011. University of Victoria, Dept. of Astronomy, Victoria BC Canada.

Binary Kuiper Belt Object orbits, dynamics, and origin. Measured binary orbit properties using novel ground-based observational techniques. Developed optimized distributed-computing methods for low signal-to-noise moving object detection in crowded fields. Supervised by Dr. JJ Kavelaars.

Undergraduate Research Assistant

2005 — 2007. University of Washington, Dept. of Astronomy, Seattle WA.

Created first asteroid-belt-wide joint dynamic and spectrophotometric definitions of asteroid families, mining the SDSS Moving Object Catalog 4. Measured spectrophotometrically-refined asteroid family size distributions. Supervised by Dr. Željko Ivezić.

SETI Institute + National Science Foundation Intern

2006. Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe, Mountain View CA.

Analysis of optical Mars Global Surveyor and near-infrared Mars Odyssey images; studied implications of fluvial landforms in giant outburst flood channel Grjotá Valles. Supervised by Dr. Devon Burr.


Invited Reviews and Colloquia

October 2015: Department colloquium, Steward Observatory, University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ.

January 2015: "Adler After Dark" and department colloquium, Adler Planetarium, Chicago, IL.

August 2014: Invited review presentation on trans-Neptunian Object dynamics. Small Bodies Dynamics meeting, Brazil.

July 2013: "The Excited Neptune Trojans: Evidence for a Pre-Heated Disk" Southwest Research Institute Colloquium, Boulder, CO.

November 2012: "Exploring Trans-Neptunian Space with New Horizons" Yale Center for Astrophysics Fall Seminar, New Haven, CT.

October 2012: "Exploring Trans-Neptunian Space with New Horizons" and "Binaries, Collisions, and the History of the Outer Solar System" Northern Arizona University Astronomy Department colloquium and outer solar system group seminar, Flagstaff, AZ.


Awards, Honors, and Service

2017 - NASA Group Achievement Award for involvement in New Horizons Pluto flyby.

2015 - John Hunter Excellence in Plotting Contest award for Painted Stone.

2014 - Kavli Fellow, National Academy of Science.

2013 - Asteroid (345842) named “Alexparker” by IAU. 

2013 - CERN “Data Visualization Award” at Imagine Science Film Festival. 

2010 - Recipient of the AAS Rodger Doxsey Travel Prize ($500). 

2008-2011 - National Science Foundation Fellow Abroad ($121,500). 

2007 - UW-STF grant for campus observatory upgrade ($47,000). 

2007 - University of Washington Departmental Honors in Astronomy. 

2007 - University of Washington Dean’s Scholar. 

2006 - John Baer Prize Award, UW Astronomy Department ($350). 

2005 - Whatcom Community College Dean’s Scholar. 

2005 - Whatcom Community College Merit Tuition Scholarship ($2,000). 

2004-2005 President of local Phi Theta Kappa chapter. 

2003-2005 - Honors Program, Whatcom Community College. 

2003 -2005 - Member of Phi Theta Kappa Honors Society.

Referee for the Astrophysical Journal, Publication of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, and Icarus


Education and Public Outreach

2015: Co-developed "Pluto Time" widget.

2015: Guest on "SciShow" long-form episode describing New Horizons.

2015: Speaker at Denver ComicCon.

2011 — 2015: Produced series of web-based animations illustrating a variety of astronomical phenomena, which have been widely circulated. “Worlds” animation honored with CERN/CinéGlobe "Data Visualization Award" at the 2013 Imagine Science Film Festival in New York City, and will be shown at March 2014 CinéGlobe International Film Festival at CERN.

2013: Guided Bay School of San Francisco class in multi-night visit to Aardvark Observatory. 

2013 — 2013: Translated Kepler data for animators of PBS NOVA documentary "Alien Planets Revealed."

2012 — 2013: Guest blogger for the Planetary Society blog.

2011: Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Speaker:  Wide Binaries in the Kuiper Belt.

2011: Guest lecture for University of Victoria ASTR 255: Introduction to Planetary Science.

2009—2010: Lab development and instruction for undergraduate Astronomy course ASTR 201 "Search For Life in the Universe." Developed lab activities including detection of Vegetation Red Edge, detection of microbial life by metabolic byproducts, measurement of greenhouse gas effect from CO2, impact simulation and frequency of giant impacts, and others.

2009: Member of the University of Victoria Speakers Bureau.

2009: Maintained “International Year of Astronomy” events website for Victoria, BC.

2007: Awarded $47,000 grant to upgrade research facilities for future Astronomy undergraduates at the University of Washington.

2007: University of Washington Robinson Center Teaching Assistant for “Physics of Roller Coasters” 5th-6th grade program.

2007: Coursework at University of Washington: Astro 270 "Outreach in Astronomy" and Astro 500 "Practical Methods for Teaching Astronomy."

2005: Construction of a 21 MHz radio telescope receiver and amplifier for future Whatcom Community College Astronomy labs.


CV last updated August 31, 2017.

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