slideshow 1 slideshow 2 slideshow 3 slideshow 4 slideshow 5 slideshow 6

You are here

Dr. Susan Benecchi

susank's picture

Senior Scientist

Currently resides in Herndon, VA
susank [at] psi.edu
Areas of Expertise
Targets: Charon, Comets, Dwarf planets, Kuiper Belt, Pluto, Trans-Neptunian objects
Disciplines/Techniques: Astrometry, Education/Public Outreach (EPO), Ground-based observing, Photometry, Space-based observing
Missions: HST, New Horizons
Facilities: Cerro Tololo, Gemini, IRTF, Kitt Peak

Research Interests

Dr. Susan Benecchi is passionate about astronomical research and inquiry-based science education. Her research focuses on small bodies, often binaries, in the outer solar system.

Her early work was with the Deep Ecliptic Survey (DES), a program to discover and dynamically characterize ~500 Kuiper belt objects (KBOs) from about 2000-2005. Since 2013 she has been invovled with the Outer Solar System Origins Survey (OSSOS; http://www.ossos-survey.org/) Team which  was a 4-year program run on the CFHT with the MegaPrime Camera to discover and track TNOs. Our summary paper describing the survey and our ~800 new discoveries with robust orbits can be found in Bannister et al. 2018 (https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/1538-4365/aab77a/pdf). Follow-up work on the rotational variability of a sample of these objects can be found in Alexandersen et al. 2019 (https://arxiv.org/pdf/1812.04304.pdf). Ongong observations on a sample of the surface colors of these objects are being done as part of a separate survey which we have entitled Col-OSSOS (Colours of the Outer Solar System Origins Survey). Results from our first full sample can be found in Schwamb et al. 2019 (https://arxiv.org/pdf/1809.08501.pdf)

Benecchi's current primary focus involves modeling eclipsing binary systems using (79360) Sila-Nunam and (385446) Manwe-Thorondor test systems (ground-based), studying the colors of KBOs in the resonance populations and characterizing 2014MU69 and other long-range TNO observing targets for the extended New Horizons mission to the Kuiper Belt with HST. Ground-based efforts describing the rotational lightcurve of 2014 MU69 prior to the fly-by can be found in Benecchi et al. 2019a (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2019.01.023) and the color characteristcs of our long-range objects can be found in Benecchi et al. 2019b (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.icarus.2019.01.025).

In addition to her research work Benecchi has co-authored (with G. Kober and P. Gossard) a self-published astronomy textbook designed for (primarily Christian) home-schooled high school students entitled "The Crossroads of Science and Faith: Astronomy Through a Christian Worldview". It teaches from an old-earth perspective but is designed to be used for students holding both young-earth and old-earth persuasions. A unique aspect of the textbook is the inclusion of interviews with astronomers who also consider themselves Christians.  The book is aimed at helping students to come to a coherent and integrated understanding of both their faith and modern scientific inquiry. An article about the textbook published in the American Scientific Affiliation's Journal Perspectives on Science & Christian Faith entitled "At the Crossroads of Science and Faith: An Astronomy Curriculum"

The first part of the textbook includes a worldview study, science and faith as two approaches to know the world, four interrelations between science and faith, conflicts that are seen to arise between scientists and Christians as a result of certain human attitudes that deserve to be questioned and finally some tips and tools for helping students to develop sound arguments for themselves. The second part of the textbook covers astronomy from a scientific perspective. It includes sections about the history of astronomy, general observational astronomy (constellations and sky motions, telescopes and techniques) and then works from the center of our Solar System outward discussing solar system formation, the Sun, and each of the planets with a section on small bodies (asteroids and Kuiper Belt objects). It addresses extra-solar planet studies and then discusses the nature of stars, galaxies, the large scale structure of the universe with some more specialized chapters on cosmology, the fine-tuned universe and the search for extraterrestrial life. The later chapters include a section addressing the philosophical (science-faith) implications of these aspects of astronomy. Appendices include topics such as: How astronomers estimate the age of the universe, the spectrum of beliefs about origins and those interpretations consistent with both the scientific and Biblical picture, the Bethlehem star, Scripture with astronomical connections, and why astrology is not science. In 2018 we published a separate book entited "The Crossroads of Science and Faith: An Introduction to the Science & Faith Dialogue" which is primarily an excerpt of the first part of the Astronomy textbook to encourage Science and Faith discussions in non-academicly focused environments. More details about both books can be found at http://www.glimpseofhissplendor.com/

Professional History

Dr. Benecchi's thesis work under Dr. Jim Elliot at MIT focused on variability of KBOs, astrometric follow-up of DES objects and discovery of binaries. Her post doctoral work at Space Telescope Science Institute with Dr. Keith Noll concentrated on further characterization of the properties of transneptunian binaries. From 2010-2013 she pursued this work at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism as a Carnegie Fellowship. Her work in this area continues today, but has expanded to consider other small body populations and their application to exo-planet discoveries. 

Since 1997, Dr. Benecchi has been involved with various educational outreach programs to a spectrum of audiences including elementary-college students, teachers and the general public (Project ARTIST, Project ASTRO, U. of Arizona Astronomy Camp and outreach for New Horizons). Since it's opening in 2009 Benecchi has been a professor with the online homeschool program "Freedom Project Academy" (http:www.fpeusa.org), originally teaching Physics, but now teaching Astronomy.

Honors and Awards

Minor Planet 21458 Susank

PSI, a Nonprofit Corporation 501(c)(3), and an Equal Opportunity/M/F/Vet/Disabled/Affirmative Action Employer.
Corporate Headquarters: 1700 East Fort Lowell, Suite 106 * Tucson, AZ 85719-2395 * 520-622-6300 * FAX: 520-622-8060
Copyright © 2019 . All Rights Reserved.