26 November 2019

Planetary Scientist Sarah Hörst to Receive LAD's 2020 Early Career Award

Richard Fienberg, AAS Press Officer

This post is adapted from a LAD press release:

Sarah M. Hörst
Sarah M. Hörst; photo by Justin Tsucalas.

The AAS Laboratory Astrophysics Division (LAD) has named Professor Sarah Hörst of Johns Hopkins University (JHU) the recipient of its 2020 Early Career Award. Given to an individual who has made important contributions to laboratory astrophysics within 10 years of receiving their PhD, the award recognizes Hörst for laboratory research advancing our understanding of photochemical haze formation in planetary atmospheres within our solar system and beyond.

Prof. Hörst, a planetary scientist, has established a unique laboratory to study the photochemical production of hazes in extreme environments, primarily focusing on the atmospheres of super-Earth and mini-Neptune exoplanets. In an important study published in Nature Astronomy, her group studied the irradiation of atmospheric gases at temperatures and abundance mixtures expected in such exotic environments. A rich diversity of aerosol particles were produced, validating a hypothesis that photochemical products could be responsible for featureless transmission spectra observed in many exoplanets. The work has led to improved chemical models of exoplanet atmospheres and will likely impact studies of Earth-like exoplanets. Hörst’s work has also focused on organic species in the atmosphere of Titan, the origin of sand on Titan, haze formation in Pluto’s atmosphere, and the composition and thermal structure of Saturn’s upper atmosphere.

Hörst received a BS in planetary sciences and literature from the California Institute of Technology and a PhD, also in planetary sciences, from the University of Arizona. She was a National Science Foundation Astronomy and Astrophysics Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Colorado. Hörst is now an Assistant Professor in JHU’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, a Hopkins Extreme Materials Institute Fellow, and an Adjunct Astronomer at the Space Telescope Science Institute. She has received the Peter B. Wagner Memorial Award for Women in Atmospheric Sciences, the University of Arizona Gerard P. Kuiper Memorial Award, and the Johns Hopkins University Catalyst Award and was a National Academy of Sciences Kavli Fellow in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2019. She is a co-investigator on NASA’s Dragonfly mission to Titan and on the proposed Io Volcano Observer mission. In 2012 Hörst was named to the “highly qualified” group in NASA’s 2013 astronaut candidate selection process.

The LAD Early Career Award includes a cash award, a framed certificate, and an invited lecture by the recipient at a meeting of the Laboratory Astrophysics Division.

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