Annual Jo Cline Astronomy Lecture to Feature Planetary Scientist Cathy Olkin

Published on: September 10, 2019
Cathy Olkin, a prominent planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, will deliver the annual Jo Cline Astronomy Lecture Friday, Sept. 27.

JAMESTOWN, N.C. – Guilford Technical Community College’s Cline Observatory and the GTCC Foundation will present a free lecture, “Exploring the Outer Reaches of Our Solar System” by Cathy Olkin, a prominent planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado.

The annual Jo Cline Astronomy Lecture will be held at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 27, in the Joseph S. Koury Auditorium on GTCC’s Jamestown Campus. Following the lecture, Cline Observatory will be open for viewing, weather permitting. Both events are free and open to the public. 

In her talk, Olkin will discuss two NASA missions: the New Horizons mission that explored Pluto and the Kuiper Belt and the Lucy mission that is currently in development and will explore the Trojan asteroids trapped in Jupiter’s orbit. Cathy served as the deputy project scientist on NASA’s New Horizons mission, which provided the first close-up images of the Pluto system. She will present highlights of the nine-year mission including the discovery of a deep basin containing glacial ices. Olkin now serves as the deputy principal investigator for the Lucy mission, which will launch October 2021 and is set to encounter seven asteroids in 12 years with one spacecraft.

At Southwest Research Institute, Olkin focuses her research on the outer solar system, specifically planetary atmospheres and surfaces. In addition to working with spacecraft to explore the solar system, she also carries out ground-based observations to learn about the size and atmospheres of small worlds. In her free time, Cathy mentors FIRST robotics programs providing hands-on STEM education for students in fourth to 12th grade.

 Olkin earned her doctorate in Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and holds a master’s in Aeronautics and Astronautics from Stanford University and a bachelor’s from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The Cline Observatory and the GTCC Foundation offers a free public lecture each fall by a notable astronomical researcher. The first lecture was given at the observatory’s dedication by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill astronomer Bruce Carney. Since then, the observatory has continued to bring some of the top researchers in the field to GTCC to share the wonders of the cosmos. Topics have spanned the universe, from the solar system to the galaxies, to great observatories and cosmology.

The fall lecture is dedicated to the memory of Jo Cline who died in 2015. Jo and her husband Don were instrumental in making the Cline Observatory and its programs possible. They could always be found in the front row of all the astronomy lectures.

For more information about the Cline Observatory, contact Tom English, director of the Cline Observatory, at (336) 334-4822, ext. 50023 or

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