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Rhiannon Blaauw Erskine, M.Sc.

Assistant Lecturer in Physics


Rhiannon Blaauw Erskine comes to Wheaton College after spending seven years working at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, where she studied the meteoroid environment as it pertains to spacecraft engineering and operations. She is passionate about astronomy, space exploration, and the integration of science and religion.

University of Western Ontario
M.Sc., Astronomy, 2010

University of Western Ontario
B.Sc., Astrophysics, 2008

  • Meteoroids
  • Astronomy
  • Comets
  • Space Environments
  • Space Physics

Rhiannon Blaauw Erskine Wheaton College chapel message
Romans 12:9-21
March 27, 2019

"The Faith and Wonder of it all" - Interview on "In the Market with Janet Parshall"
February 27, 2020

Perseid Meteor Shower
The Weather Channel

Perseid meteor shower
view the video on Weather Channel

Perseid meteor shower on NASA TV

Perseid meteor shower
view NASA TV video

  • Astronomy
  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Apologetics
  • Science & Religion
  • Christian Worldview
  • Understanding and modeling the sporadic and shower meteoroid environments. Select projects involved:
    • Analyzing data from radars, optical systems, and telescopic data.
    • Characterizing meteor shower outbursts.
    • Leading an observation campaign to observe the May Camelopardalid meteor shower outburst (a new & predicted meteor shower).
    • Operating telescopes locally and remotely to observe meteoroid impact flashes on the moon, and imaging comets to find dust production rates.
    • Inspecting spacecraft data to constraint the relative risk to spacecraft from shower and sporadic meteoroids.
    • Responding to real-time requests for information regarding bright fireball events around continental USA.
    • Determining mass distribution indices for shower and sporadic populations.

Brown. P.G., Assink, J.D., Astiz, L., Blaauw, R. et al., (2013) “A 500-kiloton airburst over Chelyabinsk and an enhanced hazard from small impactors”, Nature, Vol. 503, Issue 7475, pp. 238-241.

Ehlert, S., Blaauw Erskine, R.C., Cooke, W.J., (2020) “Measuring fluxes of meteor showers with the NASA all-sky fireball network” Planetary and Space Sciences. Vol 188, out Sept 2020.

The mass index and mass of the Geminid meteoroid stream as determined with radar, optical, and lunar impact data, Planetary and Space Science
Blaauw, R.C., Vol 143, pp 83-88, 2017
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A two-population sporadic meteoroid bulk density distribution and its implications for environment models, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
Moorhead, A.V., Blaauw, R.C., Moser, D.E., Campbell-Brown, M.D., Brown, P.G., and Cooke, W.J., August 2017
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Optical Meteor Fluxes and Application to the 2015 Perseids, Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society
M. D. Campbell-Brown, A. Kingery, 2017
This paper outlines new methods to measure optical meteor fluxes for showers and sporadic sources. Many past approaches have found the collecting area of a detector at a fixed 100 km altitude, but this approach considers the full volume, finding the area in two km height intervals based on the position of the shower or sporadic source radiant and the population’s velocity. Here, the stellar limiting magnitude is found every 10 minutes during clear periods and converted to a limiting meteor magnitude for the shower or sporadic source having fluxes measured, which is then converted to a limiting mass. The final output is a mass limited flux for meteor showers or sporadic sources. Presented are the results of these flux methods as applied to the 2015 Perseid meteor shower as seen by the Meteoroid Environment Office’s eight wide-field cameras. The peak Perseid flux on the night of August 13, 2015, was measured to be 0.002989 meteoroids/km²/hr down to 0.00051 grams, corresponding to a ZHR of 100.7.
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Determination of the Meteor Limiting Magnitude, Planetary and Space Science
A. Kingery, March 2017
We present our method to calculate the meteor limiting magnitude. The limiting meteor magnitude defines the faintest magnitude at which all meteors are still detected by a given system. An accurate measurement of the limiting magnitude is important in order to calculate the meteoroid flux from a meteor shower or sporadic source. Since meteor brightness is linked to meteor mass, the limiting magnitude is needed to calculate the limiting mass of the meteor flux measurement. The mass distribution of meteoroids is thought to follow a power law, thus being slightly off in the limiting magnitude can have a significant effect on the measured flux. Sky conditions can change on fairly short timescales; therefore one must monitor the meteor limiting magnitude at regular intervals throughout the night, rather than just measuring it once. We use the stellar limiting magnitude as a proxy of the meteor limiting magnitude. Our method for determining the stellar limiting magnitude and how we transform it into the meteor limiting magnitude is presented. These methods are currently applied to NASA's wide-field meteor camera network to determine nightly fluxes, but are applicable to other camera networks.
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