About

I grew up in southern Norway and studied celestial mechanics at the Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics at the University in Oslo. I was fortunate enough to be awarded a Smithsonian Pre-doctoral Fellowship, which allowed me to do my doctoral thesis research at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  There I worked on understanding the physical and dynamical properties of the irregular satellites of the giant planets in our Solar System and their implication for early planetary formation and migration. I graduated in the fall of 2004 and moved to work at the Institute for Astronomy, University of Hawaii, as a Junior Scientist on the Pan-STARRS project. There I worked with the Moving Object Processing System (MOPS) team, developing and testing the software needed to discover and track new and known asteroids in the Pan-STARRS survey data. Pan-STARRS is now the worlds leading survey telescope, finding 40% of the new Near-Earth Objects discovered each year. In 2008 I joined Johns Hopkins University as an Associate Research Scientist to help their faculty take full advantage of their new status as a partner in the Pan-STARRS 1 Science Consortium. While I was there I was approached by a team of scientist working on the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE). They wanted to use this NASA Astrophysics mission, which was launched in late 2009, to discover and track asteroids found in their survey data. I joined their NEOWISE team and helped develop and test a modified version of the Pan-STARRS MOPS framework to work on the WISE data, termed WMOPS. Using WMOPS we were able to observe 150,000 asteroids, including more than 30,000 new discoveries. Since the satellite observes the asteroids and comets in the infrared, seeing essentially heat, rather than optical light, this mission provided the largest catalog of sizes and albedos of asteroids known to date. The satellite operated for a little more than a year, before it was put into hibernation, but we continued to analyze the enormous data set, deriving new models and estimates for the risk associated with Potentially Hazardous Asteroids (PHAs), understanding the physical and dynamical properties of the different asteroid populations, and providing new insights into the origins and evolution of our Solar System. In late 2013 we were able to again secure funding for bringing the WISE spacecraft back to life, now called the NEOWISE-R mission (where the R stands for reactivated). This extended mission is expected to last 3 years and the first year has allowed us to observe more than 250 Near-Earth Objects (NEOs), including 44 new discoveries. Together with the data from the primary mission in 2010, we have now derived physical properties for more than 750 NEOs (almost 10% of the known NEO population). This is key in further understanding the risk and possible threats this population posses to the planet we call home.

I have always been interested in nature and how things work and so becoming a scientist was pretty natural. I was never to into space and science fiction as a kid, leaning more towards history and fantasy. But while taking the introductory course in astronomy (while working on a master thesis in fluid dynamics) I was able to volunteer to go to La Palma to use the 2.5m Nordic Optical Telescope. The rest is history as they say. When I don’t work I enjoy my time with my family and have a great passion for woodworking and birding. My main passion currently is bird watching, chasing species across America, which works great with the large amounts of travel involved in astronomy. I have seen White-crowned Pigeons in the Florida Keys, the Pacific Wren in Arizona, the Black Oystercatcher in California, the Snowy Owl in Indiana and the Caspian Tern in Maryland. You can check out my birding blog here.

I am proud of my Norwegian heritage and come from a long line of fishermen and farmers in the south of Norway. As my families first American immigrant, my small claim to fame is that I am the only Norwegian to have discovered a moon of another planet, the moon named Sao around Neptune. I am also one out of only 15 Norwegians who have an asteroid named after them, joining such names as Fritjof Nansen, (853) Nansenia,  Roald Amundsen, (1065) Amundsenia, and Thor Heyerdahl, (2473) Heyerdahl.

Cheers

Tommy Grav

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