Planetary Happy Snaps – Divya M Persaud joins Real Scientists for Cassini Week!

Up next for Cassini Week is Divya M. Persaud (@Divya_M_P) a planetary scientist, composer, and writer of Indo-Caribbean heritage.


Divya Persaud_RS


With an ongoing focus in remote sensing for planetary geology and geophysics, Divya’s research experience includes a lidar mapping project with the MESSENGER probe, paleomagnetism of impact glasses and meteorites, imaging and geophysics of Saturn’s icy moons, and a Mars radar mission concept incubator. She is especially interested in icy bodies, imaging, and mission development, and is an alum of the NASA Academy. Here is how she got into planetary science:


The story I always tell is that I asked my mom at the age of four how I could make a career out of collecting rocks. I was sold on geology instantly! I did the science fair route and read as many books as possible. I saw a special on Cassini-Huygens on a science education TV channel in middle school. This was after the Huygens probe landed on Titan; soon after, I saw a special on planetary geology, and I was hooked. I made NASA my homepage, and into high school I began looking into student programs, which eventually, with a lot of luck, led me to planetary geophysics! So when it came time to apply for college, I knew.


What keeps me here is the spirit of curiosity in this field (and its appreciation for puns), and the excitement of the cutting edge that is space science. Even when our research can be slow and tedious, we still get to tend to some of the greatest questions of humanity. This is pretty compelling, uh, rocket fuel.


I’ve worked on several projects as a student. My first was developing a method to generate a reflectance map – useful in understanding mineralogy – of the surface of Mercury using the MESSENGER lidar instrument, a method adapted from the Mars Laser Altimeter. I was the geology lead of a radar mission concept for Mars at the NASA Ames Academy, which I extended as my undergraduate honors thesis. My doctorate at UCL will concern automated 3D reconstruction of Mars ground- and orbital images ahead of the ExoMars 2020 rover – that is, fusing images from Mars orbiters and rovers into an interactive, high-resolution map system for scientists and the public. My goal is to refine this fusion for smaller-scale features, and maybe explore automated feature recognition from the final maps to enable more efficient science.


Space science gives us spinoff technologies (infrastructure, medicine/healthcare, computing, clean energy), services (GPS, disability technologies, products for communities), and protection (weather and space weather monitoring, geohazard warning systems). However, when it comes to my research, I think the question touches on why awe is important. Space is an unfathomable neighborhood that we are born from and belong to. In looking at space, we have the opportunity to be a collective people and understand our existence as such. This opportunity is equally rare, precious, and fraught. This is why my concern for advocacy and justice is very much tied to my research. Space is for everyone, but it isn’t necessarily, right now. My job in research is to make sure that people know that space is for them; representing data in accessible but honest ways, and pushing the limits of what data we can retrieve from spacecraft. Beyond academia, I want to also make sure that anyone and everyone can access space education and the project of space investigation.


I’m also a really active writer and composer, as well as cellist! I have two published books of poetry and have been working on several experimental composition works in the past year. Writing and music aren’t secondary to science; the three are isomorphs of each other for me, always trying to understand the other two through one. In this regard, I draw a lot of inspiration from Mae Jemison. I also read a lot of history and social theory.


My ideal day off would have me in the mountains in California or in a city at dusk, hunting for exciting rocks I don’t understand and good vegan eats (respectively, or maybe not).


She tweets @Divya_M_P and you can check out her blog at
Please welcome Divya to Real Scientists!

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