Museum Astrophysicist Named American Astronomical Society Fellow

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Jackie Faherty, Senior Scientist in the AMNH Astrophysics Department, stands at a podium giving a talk. R. Mickens/© AMNH

Museum astronomer Jackie Faherty has been named as a Fellow of the American Astronomical Society (AAS), an international organization of professional astronomers, astronomy educators, and amateur astronomers.

Faherty is one of 23 new Fellows chosen this year for extraordinary achievement and service. She was selected for “outstanding accomplishments in the study of brown dwarfs and directly imaged exoplanets; a dedication to public outreach; and service as an advocate, role model, and mentor to astronomers from underrepresented groups.”

Faherty’s research focuses on brown dwarfs, celestial objects spread throughout the Milky Way that are more massive than planets but lighter than stars. They can’t sustain stable nuclear fusion like stars do, but they are hot enough to glow brightest in the infrared range of the light spectrum. Faherty studies a wide range of phenomena related to brown dwarfs, from their ages to their cloud features, with a focus on the motions and characteristics of young brown dwarfs and how they relate to giant exoplanets.

When she was a graduate student at Stony Brook University, Faherty initiated the Brown Dwarf Kinematics Project, which measured and compiled the positions, distances, and velocities for a significant portion of the brown dwarf population. She currently co-leads a dynamic research group at the Museum—Brown Dwarfs in New York City (BDNYC)—that investigates a variety of topics in brown dwarf science and provides mentorship to undergraduate and graduate student researchers.

“Brown dwarfs may be invisible to the human eye but they are everywhere in the galaxy,” Faherty said. “They have properties that overlap with giant planets like Jupiter as well as low-mass stars like TRAPPIST-1, so they are a really important class of objects for both stellar and planetary astrophysics.”

As a senior research scientist and senior education manager at the Museum, Faherty holds a unique position that allows her to pursue scientific research while mentoring and advising education programs for students and the general public.

Working with the Open Space visualization software, which is supported by NASA and was developed by a team that includes the Museum’s science visualization group, Faherty has led research efforts to explore new structures in the Milky Way, including several projects with students in the Museum’s Master of Arts in Teaching program, and has provided awe-inspiring tours of the universe for thousands of Museum visitors onsite and online.

Faherty also co-founded the popular citizen science project Backyard Worlds: Planet 9, which has engaged more than 150,000 individuals across the globe to search for previously missing objects lurking in the outer reaches of our solar system and in neighboring interstellar space.

Faherty earned her Ph.D. from Stony Brook University in 2011. She also is a recipient of the Vera Rubin Early Career Prize, awarded in 2020 from AAS.

Museum Research Associate Kelle Cruz, an associate professor at CUNY Hunter College, was also named an AAS Fellow for her “continuous dedication to the betterment of the scientific process and community, including her efforts founding the AstroBetter blog, serving in important leadership roles within the AAS, and authoring seminal papers in brown dwarf science.”