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Dr. Mark Sykes

PSI CEO & Director

Currently resides in Tucson, AZ
sykes [at]
Areas of Expertise
Asteroids, Ceres, Charon, Comets, Dwarf planets, Interplanetary Dust, Pluto, Small satellites, Vesta | Dawn, IRAS, Spitzer | Data archive, Mission Co-Investigator, Mission science team | Ground-based observing, Photometry, Radiometry, Remote sensing, Space-based observing | IRTF

Research Interests

Dr. Mark Sykes' research focus is interplanetary dust, asteroids, comets and other small bodies in the solar system. He is also interested in Pluto, which in the 90s he determined was not isothermal. While eight trails associated with known short-period comets were identified in data from the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, Sykes and his colleagues are working on data from the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer and are expecting to find hundreds of such trails in addition to other extended solar system structures.

Professional History

After receiving his PhD in planetary science from the University of Arizona in 1986, Dr. Sykes joined the research faculty of Steward Observatory where he worked on various planetary projects for the next seventeen years. During this time he served on the Astronomy and Astrophysics Working Group of the Space Exploration Initiative to develop a plan for the evolution of astronomy from the surface of the Moon, he chaired a NASA panel to develop the first planetary spacecraft data rights policy for the agency, and he served in various roles for the Division for Planetary Science of the American Astronomical Society. For the DPS, he was elected to the Nominating Committee, DPS Committee, and Chair. He later led their Federal Relations Subcommittee and served on the AAS Committee on Astronomy and Public Policy. In 1997, Sykes received his JD from the University of Arizona College of Law and was admitted to the Arizona Bar. In 2004, Dr. Sykes became CEO and Director of the non-profit Planetary Science Institute. During this time he has chaired the NASA Planetary Data System Working Group and the NASA Small Bodies Assessment Group and was a member of the NASA Planetary Science Subcommittee. Sykes has served on and chaired numerous NASA proposal review panels. He is the founding editor of the Planetary Exploration Newsletter.

Dr. Sykes is a Co-Investigator on the NASA Dawn mission to Vesta and Ceres. He has designed numerous planetary missions using solar electric propulsion including multiple asteroid rendezvous and a Pluto orbiter mission which was to be powered by a uranium reactor. He was PI of the proposed Eve mission to 10 Hygeia. He began his professional life at the University of Oregon's Pine Mountain Observatory making photometric and polarometric observations of eclipsing binaries, in particular the first black hole system Cygnux X-1. After spending some time studying laser physics and developing analog convolution methods in applied optics at the Oregon Graduate Center, he ended up getting his PhD in planetary science at the University of Arizona where he discovered and identified comet trails and numerous bands of dust surrounding the inner solar system created by asteroid collisions. 

Honors and Awards

2016, Masursky Award, Division for Planetary Sciences, American Astronomical Society
2013, NASA Group Achievement Award, Dawn Science Operations Team
2013, NASA Group Achievement Award, Dawn Science Team
2007, NASA Planetary Science Division, Distinguished Service Award
2005, Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
1991, Minor Planet 4438 Sykes
1986, University of Arizona Gerard P. Kuiper Memorial Award

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