Candidate Profile
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Astronomy & Space Science
Science - General
Science - Physics
Harriet Brettle is a Planetary Sciences graduate student at the California Institute of Technology. She holds a B.Sc. degree in mathematics from the University of Warwick and a postgraduate certificate in astrophysics with distinction from Queen Mary, University of London. Harriet is a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society. In 2017 she was part of the outreach team for the Red Dots campaign that searched for terrestrial planets around nearby red dwarf stars. Her current research at Caltech focuses on Jupiter and the Galilean moons. She is observing Europa using the Keck telescope on Hawaii and, separately, modelling the storms at Jupiter’s south pole to better understand the patterns observed by the Juno mission.

Alongside her research Harriet is actively involved in outreach and is passionate about public engagement. She has covered the space industry for a number of organizations and regularly gives talks ranging from stand-up pub talks to school workshops. Harriet was the lead organizer and host of SpaceUp London, that brought together space enthusiasts from across Europe, and has appeared on a variety of space shows including the Interplanetary Podcast and the Space Faction podcast. Harriet has also volunteered at events such as NYC Earth Day, public star gazing, and European Astrofest.

Harriet became London Outreach Coordinator for the Planetary Society in 2016 and worked to strengthen the organization’s presence in the UK. She is also the Strategic Partnerships Team Coordinator of the Space Generation Advisory Council, supporting its mission to represent students and young professionals to the United Nations, space agencies, industry, and academia.

1. Stargazing: a tour of the night sky
Prepare for an adventure through the cosmos! This talk provides a fun overview of what you can see in the night sky. We will explore the planets, phases of the moons, meteor showers and the northern lights.

2. Life in the Universe
Throughout all of humanity we have asked the question, ‘are we alone?’ Where might life exist in the solar system and beyond? With new technologies and new discoveries, we are closer than ever before to the answer. This talk will discuss what we mean by ‘life’, what it might look like elsewhere in the universe and how we can go about finding it. This talk will start by considering the ingredients for life to exist and explore where we might find these conditions elsewhere in our own solar system. We will also discuss the breakthroughs in exoplanet research – the study of planets around other stars – and explore if there are other earth-like planets out there.

3. Exploring Icy Ocean Worlds
We now know that some moons in the solar system, including Europa and Enceladus, have global sub-surface oceans under their icy crust. These ocean worlds have redefined our understanding of habitability and extended our search for life elsewhere in the solar system. This talk will introduce these moons and explain our most recent understanding of what they are like. The talk will present cutting edge data from the latest space missions to the Jupiter and Saturn systems and provide a sneak preview for future missions that help us to learn more about them.

4. Gravitational Waves – what are they and what do they mean for astronomy?
In 2016, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatories (LIGO) detected gravitational waves for the first time. These waves were predicted theoretically by Einstein over a 100 years ago. These ripples in space time hold the secrets to the sounds of the universe and could open up astronomy to whole new way to understand the cosmos. This talk will introduce what gravitational waves are, explain their importance and explore how they will fundamentally change astronomy in the future.

5. Jupiter: king of the planets
Jupiter is the grandest planet in the solar system. It is a gas giant with storms on its surface that are larger than the whole Earth! It has over 50 rocky moons orbiting around it, some of which may be able to support life. This talk will provide an overview of the planet, provide insights from the latest space missions that have explored Jupiter, and show you how to observe it for yourself in the night’s sky.

6. A tour of the solar system
This talk will provide an introductory overview to the planets in the solar system. Each planet has their own unique characteristics and through this interactive talk we will get to know them a little better. Why is Venus so inhospitable? What’s so special about the Galilean moons of Jupiter? Why is Pluto no longer a planet? All these questions, and many more will be answered!

7. What has space ever done for us?
Space exploration has changed humanity profoundly. It has inspired us to look to the stars and dream of a better future. Technology for space has also dramatically improved life here on earth. From camera phones to water purification systems to artificial limbs, we have a lot to thank space technology for! This talk will explore the innovative technologies, originally designed for use in space, that have impacted and revolutionized our lives.

8. Exoplanets – beyond the solar system
We now know that there are thousands of planets, known as exoplanets, out there beyond the solar system. Science fiction enthusiasts dream about what it is like on other worlds, but today the study of planets beyond our Solar System has made those dreams a reality. This talk will explain how these planets have been detected, what they tell us about our own solar system, and how what this means for our understanding of life elsewhere in the universe.

9. A History of Telescopes
From Galileo to the modern day, this talk will discuss telescopes through the ages and how they have changed our understanding of the cosmos.

10. The Future of Space Exploration
The moon landings happened over 40 years ago. Now what? This talk will explore what progress we have made in terms of space exploration since the 1970’s. With a new space age right around the corner, this talk will introduce the new players such as SpaceX and Blue Origin that are revolutionizing the industry. Now is the time to get excited about space exploration!

11. The Scale of the Universe
Everyone knows that the universe is big, but just how big?! This talk will explore the vast scales of the cosmos, from the tiniest atoms to the largest galaxies. We will
This talk, aimed towards children, will explore the vast scales of the cosmos, from the tiniest atoms to the largest galaxies in a fun and interactive way.

12. Can Science fiction predict the future?
Science fiction stories of the past have predicted the space exploration we see today. Jule Verne dreamed of astronauts heading to the moon, Arthur C. Clarke spoke of interstellar asteroids, and Jonathan Swift predicted the moons of mars. Were these predictions coincidence or calculated foresight? This talk will run through science fiction predictions of the past and what these stories say about us.
I am a science writer, public speaker and event host. I am active in science communication and outreach.
I am passionate about public engagement having written articles for the Planetary Society, Astrobites, and the Amateur Astronomy Association of New York. I ran a workshop on ‘Life in the Universe as part of the Institute of Physics ‘Physics at Work’ school day, organised SpaceUp London and have appeared on the Interplanetary Podcast. I have also volunteered at numerous events including NYC Earth Day, public star gazing nights, and European Astrofest.