Solar System Scientist

California, United States
18 May 2020
End of advertisement period
18 Jul 2020
Contract Type
Full Time

Job Summary

IPAC at the California Institute of Technology is accepting applications for a Solar System Scientist position to work on the NEO Surveyor program. NEO Surveyor is the space component of the NASA NEO Surveillance Mission that will launch in the mid-2020’s. NEO Surveyor consists of a passively-cooled 50 cm telescope located at Sun-Earth L1 equipped with a wide-field camera that will image the sky in two mid-infrared bands. Operations will be optimized to detect, track and characterize Near Earth Objects (NEOs) and more distant small bodies in the solar system.

IPAC is developing and will operate the Survey Data System (NSDS) for NEO Surveyor that ingests imaging and engineering data from the flight system, processes those data into calibrated image and source detection products, performs automated searches for moving solar system objects, assesses the quality of the survey data, and distributes data products to NASA archives and the user community.

Caltech is more than a world-renowned science and engineering research and education institution, it is a community—a community of curious and passionate individuals who collaborate to understand and solve complex scientific and societal challenges. Caltech offers an exciting and dynamic work environment, exceptional career development opportunities, competitive pay programs, great benefits, and the opportunity to participate in many campus programs and activities. Exceptional employees are critical to Caltech’s success.

IPAC, part of the Physics, Math, and Astronomy Division at Caltech (, partners with NASA, NSF, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL, operated for NASA by Caltech), and the world-wide research community to advance exploration of our universe. IPAC provides science operations, user support, data and archive services, and scientific vision to maximize discovery with observatories both in space and on the ground. Scientists at IPAC have access to Palomar and other research facilities.

Job Duties

The Solar System Scientist will report to the NSDS Lead, and their duties will include:

  • Working with the NSDS System Architect and software engineers to design, test and marshal into operations all components of the moving object detection system
  • Working with the NSDS Quality Assurance (QA) Lead on the design and development of the QA system elements related to solar system object detection and vetting.  During operations, working with the QA Lead to coordinate the QA team who are responsible for final vetting of solar system object tracklet candidates prior to delivery to the IAU Minor Planet Center (MPC)
  • Working with the NSDS team to develop and implement tests of solar system object detection efficiency and accuracy, and during operations oversee reporting of the detection efficiency and accuracy to the NEO Surveyor project
  • Serving as IPAC liaison with the MPC to assist in negotiating requirements for interface design
  • Serving as IPAC liaison with one or more NEO Surveyor Investigation Team Working Groups
  • Advising the NSDS Lead and System Architect on the design and development of interfaces with the NEO Survey Investigation Team to supply data and information necessary for the characterization of asteroid and comet physical properties

The Solar System Scientist will be expected to plan and conduct an independent research program that aims to make use of data returned by the NEO Surveyor, and to be an active participant in the general activities of the IPAC Science Staff.

Basic Qualifications

  • PhD in Planetary Science, Astronomy, or related discipline
  • At least 5 years of relevant experience, including working on NEO surveys
  • Thorough knowledge of solar system object dynamics and populations, and characterization and analysis of astronomical imaging data

Preferred Qualifications

  • Experience with thermophysical modeling of NEOs and asteroids
  • Experience conducting statistical analyses of extremely large astronomical data sets

Required Documents

  • Cover Letter
  • Curriculum Vitae
  • Planned Research Statement
  • Names and Contact information of 3 references