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The Cassini spacecraft arrives at Saturn (artist's rendering). Credit: NASA

Hello, everyone.  Welcome to my blog as part of the Cosmic Diary.  I’m an astronomer at the SETI Institute.  Or a planetary scientist.  Or a planetary astronomer.  Or something.  I’ve never figured out what to call myself.  I spend my days doing what most scientists do: converting raw data into published papers, hopefully figuring out some fundamental truth about the universe and advancing the scope of human knowledge along the way.  Or at least that’s the theory.  Often my days are actually spent beating my head against misbehaving software or struggling to make sense of what I’m looking at.  It’s a wonderful job and SETI is a great place to work.

The data that I use come primarily from a variety of spacecraft, including Cassini (currently orbiting Saturn), Voyager 1 and 2 (currently really far away), and the Hubble Space Telescope (in low Earth orbit).  The data include spectacular visual images (of which I plan to post many), less spectacular but equally interesting spectra in a wide variety of wavelengths, and stellar occultations.  The pictures and spectra are generally of the rings and moons of the four outer planets: Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Uranus.  Most people don’t realize that planets other than Saturn even have rings, but they do, and I’ll be discussing them eventually.  The purpose of my research is generally to help figure out the origin, age, evolution, and eventual fate of these rings and moons.

My plan for this blog is, oddly enough, to talk about rings and moons.  If nothing else, it will give me an excuse to read some of the hundreds of papers sitting in my “to read” stack so that I can summarize them for you, the reader.  Along the way I intend to introduce you to the wonders of the spacecraft that we have launched over the past 50 years and the things we have learned from them as well as give you a taste of how we do science.

My original background is in computer science, and I spent more than 20 years in industry doing software and hardware development before eventually switching careers a couple of times and ending up, relatively late in life, as an astronomer.  It turns out that an awful lot of modern astronomy is programming, so that knowledge has been very useful.  I may also discuss in this blog some of the ways in which we do software development and how that is (slowly) evolving from the dark ages of FORTRAN to the modern world of open source software and Python.

Thank you for joining me!


About rfrench

Rob French is a Research Assistant at the Carl Sagan Center for the Study of Life in the Universe at the SETI Institute. He studies the rings and moons of the outer planets. His favorite ring is the F ring of Saturn and his favorite moon is Cupid (a small inner satellite of Uranus).

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