About Me

Hello, and thank you for stopping by! My name is Mariona Badenas-Agusti and I am a Ph.D. student in Planetary Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). At MIT, I work with Prof. Sara Seager and Prof. Julien de Wit on stars and (exo)planets.

A Little About My Interests

Within stellar and planetary science, my primary interests are exoplanets suitable for atmospheric characterization and pulsating stars in eccentric binaries. Please visit the "Research" and "Publications" section of this website if you are interested in learning more about my most recent work.

As an observational astronomer enthusiastic about efficient and powerful code, I greatly enjoy combining real telescope observations with my own programming tools in order to improve our understanding of stars and distant planets. I am a big advocate of open source science, open knowledge, and good data visualization practices.

When not looking up at the night sky, I can be found flying small planes, reading about rockets, learning about astrophotography, and cooking. I am also very interested in art history and love finding connections between the realm of science and that of art.

A Little About My Story

I began my Ph.D. in the Fall of 2019 as an MIT Presidential Fellow. Before embarking on this adventure, I pursued my undergraduate studies at Yale University, where I graduated with a B.Sc. in Astrophysics in 2016. For my undergraduate thesis at Yale, advised by Prof. Debra Fischer, I wrote a complete and automated analysis pipeline to characterize planetary systems from NASA's Kepler-2 Mission.

Upon graduation, I joined GTD Systems and Software Engineering as a Space Engineer, where I worked until 2018. In this role, I contributed to the ALTAIR project for the European Commission, aimed at evaluating the feasibility of a reusable, green, lightweight rocket with the capacity to launch small satellites into Low Earth Orbit (400-1000km).

In parallel to my work in the space sector, I decided to delve deeper into astronomy with a M.Sc. in Astrophysics, High Energy Physics, and Cosmology from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and the Institute of Space Studies of Catalonia. For my master’s thesis with Prof. Ignasi Ribas, I wrote a Bayesian routine to predict the orbital period of a transiting planet based on a single transit event, and extract the planetary and stellar properties of each individual transit.

Work

I am equally fascinated by planets and stars, so most of my academic research revolves around high-precision stellar astrophysics and exoplanet science. Through ground- and space-based observations, I seek to answer some of these "big" questions:

  • Finding Planetary Systems Similar to our Own: How can space missions such as Kepler and TESS contribute to the search for planetary systems similar to our own Solar System? What types of planets do these Sun-like stars host, and how different/similar are they from the Solar System planets? What can we say about their atmospheric composition and internal structure? What are their prospects for habitability (or inhabitability!)?

  • Stellar Astrophysics/Asteroseismology: How can we use observations of variable stars to constrain the physics and diversity of stellar pulsations? How can these pulsations help to improve theoretical models of stellar interiors? What is the connection between tidal processes and the excitation of a star's natural oscillatory modes?

  • Multi- Stellar and Planetary Systems: What are the fundamental characteristics of multis (if there are any) and how do they compare to those of single-star(planet) systems? What can a multi's present-day orbital configuration tell us about its formation and evolutionary path? What role do tidal interactions play in a multi's dynamical history?

  • Below you will find a summary of some of my current research projects.

    HD 191939: A Nearby, Bright Sun-like Star with Three Mini-Neptunes

    The published manuscript can be found here. A summary of my work for the Exoplanets III conference (July 2020) is available on this link.

    To understand the ubiquity of sub-Neptune-sized planets and their puzzling absence in our Solar System, we need to detect systems composed of Sun-like stars and multiple sub-Neptunes amenable to characterization. For this purpose, the multi-planetary system HD 191939 is a promising target.


    Credit: Juan Carlos Casado.

    This system is composed of a nearby, bright Sun-like star (HD 191939) and three sub-Neptune-sized planets. To validate the planetary nature of the transit signals, we combined 5 months of TESS data with ground-based photometry, radial velocity, and direct imaging observations. The three sub-Neptunes have similar radii and their orbits are consistent with a stable, circular, and co-planar architecture near mean motion resonances of 1:3 and 3:4.

    Looking into the future, the HD 191939 system offers an excellent opportunity to acquire precise mass measurements with high-resolution spectroscopy thanks to the host star's brightness and low chromospheric activity. In addition, the system’s compact and near-resonant nature can provide an independent way to measure planetary masses via transit timing variations while also enabling dynamical and evolutionary studies. Finally, as a promising target for multi-wavelength transmission spectroscopy of all three planets' atmospheres, HD 191939 can offer valuable insight into multiple sub-Neptunes born from a proto-planetary disk that may have resembled that of the early Sun.


    Tidally-Induced Pulsations in Short-Period, Eccentric Systems

    Some stars "pulsate:" in other words, their apparent brightness changes periodically over time. This stellar variability can either be intrinsic or extrinsic. The former notably arises when a star expands and contracts due to physical processes in its interior.


    Credit: NASA.

    In contrast, extrinsic stellar variability is caused by external phenomena to the star. A good example of extrinsic variability occurs in binary systems, where tidal forces cause the primary star to become slightly ellipsoidal near periastron. In combination with other effects, such as reflection and Doppler beaming, this tidal distortion produces changes (or "oscillations") in the brightness of the star.


    Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

    But the story does not end here! In eccentric binaries, it is also possible to observe "tidally-excited" oscillations (or TEOs). These TEOs occur when the natural oscillation modes of the primary star get “tidally excited“ due to the orbital motion of the secondary companion. In this context, my research seeks to understand the properties of tidally-induced pulsations (including TEOs) in short-period, eccentric systems. In particular, of the main goals of my work is to assess whether the oscillations of such systems could be induced and/or sustained due to the presence of their eccentric companion. More generally, my work hopes to shed light on the mechanisms that drive the oscillations of these eccentric binaries and the effect that tidal processes have in their formation and evolution.

    Outreach

    Throughout my career, I have had the privilege to interact, work, and learn from renowned planetary scientists and brilliant individuals who have kindly offered me their advice, mentorship, and support. These unforgettable encounters have motivated me to pursue my dreams and have instilled in me the importance of giving back to society.

    One of my preferred ways of engaging with my communities is through outreach activities. I am particularly interested in using astronomy as a tool to inspire and motivate young students to pursue scientific careers, particularly girls and other under-represented groups in academia. Over the past years, I have collaborated with high schools, museums, private organizations, and media outlets with the goal of sharing my passion for space and talk about the importance of science in our daily lives.

    Below you will find a summary of some of my most recent outreach activities. Many of them are based on my experiences in the Mars Desert Research Station as the Co-Commander and Astrophysicist of the LATAM III Crew. For more information on the latter, please visit the "Mars" section of this website.


    Media

    Press

  • May 2020: Featured in the children's Catalan magazine "Cavall Fort" (number 1388) dedicated to Mars and the exploration of the Red Planet.


  • Credit: Cavall Fort / Pep Boatella.

  • March 2020: My work on the discovery and validation of HD 191939 multi-planetary system was explained in the Spanish newspaper "La Vanguardia."

  • October 2019: Interviewed by the Spanish newspaper "La Vanguardia" on my academic career and my aspirations and dreams.


  • Credit: La Vanguardia.

  • June 2019: Interviewed by the Catalan newspaper "El Punt" on my mission to the MDRS as part of the LATAM III crew.


  • Credit: El Punt Avui.

  • June 2019: Interviewed by the Spanish newspaper "El Periodico" on my day-to-day life at the MDRS.


  • Credit: El Periódico.

  • April 2019: Featured on the Catalan newspaper "Ara." The article describes the LATAM III mission and my roles as the Co-Commander and Astrophysicist of the crew.

  • November 2016: Interviewed by the Catalan newspaper "Ara" before traveling to Kazakhstan to witness the launch of the Soyuz MS-03 crew (Thomas Pesquet, Peggy Whitson, and Oleg Novitskiy).

  • TV

  • May 2020: Interviewed by journalist Ruth Jimenez in "Tot es Mou," a TV program in the Catalan TV public channel TV3. I talk about my time at the MDRS and the prospects for the habitability on Mars.

  • March 2020: Interviewed by InfoK, a news program adapted for children and broadcasted by the Catalan TV channel TV3. I talk to young kids about my work as an astrophysicist, my future aspirations, and my experiences at the MDRS.

  • April 2019: Interviewed by journalist Lídia Heredia on her program "Els Matins de TV3" , coordinated by the Catalan TV channel TV3. I discuss future interstellar travel to Mars and my expectations for the LATAM III mission at the MDRS.

  • Radio

  • August 2020 : Interviewed by journalist Adam Martin on his program "Estiu de Gracia" from the Catalan radio station "Catalunya Radio." I talk about my love for astronomy, my work on exoplanets, and my experiences at the MDRS.

  • July 2019 : Participated in the Catalan radio program "La Nit dels Ignorants 3.0" to explain the Apollo 11 Mission and commmemorate its 50th anniversary.

  • June 2019 : Interviewed by Jordi Clapés on their program "Versió RAC 1," from the Catalan radio station RAC 1. I discuss Mars, the MDRS, and the LATAM III mission.

  • June 2019 : Interviewed by journalist Josep Cuní in his program "Aquí, amb Josep Cuní," from the Spanish radio station "Cadena Ser."


  • Credit: RAC 1 / Montse Llussà.

    Talks and Writing

  • June 2020: Participated in the webinar "La mentoria com a motor del canvi" (Mentorship as a Driver for Change) organized by the UPFemale Mentoring group from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra.


  • Credit: UPFemale Mentoring.

  • February 2020: I gave a talk on exoplanets and the TESS mission at the contemporary art exhibition "Sota l'Óssa Major," by Catalan artist Angels Ribé.


  • Credit: Tecla Sala / Maria Agustí.

  • 2019-2020: I collaborated with the CCCB (Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona) on their exhibition "Marte, El Espejo Rojo" (Mars, The Red Mirror). In particular, I contributed to the "Mars in the Anthropocene" section of this exhibit with an essay on my time in the MDRS as a member of the LATAM III crew and the possibility that humanity becomes an interplanetary species. Please contact me if you would like to read this essay.


  • Credit: CCCB.

  • March 2019: To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, I collaborated with the Cosmocaixa Science Museum in Barcelona on their series of public talks about the Moon. In particular, I moderated the conference "El Origen de la Luna y sus Efectos en la Tierra" (The Origin of the Moon and its Effects on the Earth) by Dr. Jordi Gutiérrez Cabello, Professor of Physics at the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya.


  • July 2017: Participated in the panel “Young Leaders in the Space Industry," organized by the International Space University (ISU) in Cork (Ireland). I talked about my academic trajectory, my passion for astrophysics, and my participation at the 2016 Edition of ISU's Space Studies Program.



  • Other Activities

  • June 2018: I attended the United Nations (UN) UNISPACE+50 Symposium as a representative of the Space Generation Advisory Council and participated in discussions with the UN Office for Outer Space and the UN "Young Women in Aerospace and the Space for Women Initiative.”

  • 2018: As a Space Engineer at GTD Systems & Software Engineering, I co-wrote a business case to justify the creation of a local chapter of Women in Aerospace in Barcelona WiA-BCN . This group was officially inaugurated in 2019.

  • May 2018: I helped organize SpaceUp BCN, a two-day "unconference" on space and space-related activities.


  • Mars


    Credit: NASA

    I have always been fascinated by space travel and the possibility that humanity becomes an interplanetary species one day. To contribute to these goals, I have collaborated with the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS), an international, non-profit organization operated by the Mars Society and dedicated to promoting space exploration and research on Mars.

    In May 2018, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks at the MDRS as the Co-Commander and Astrophysicist of the LATAM III expedition. Our crew was composed of seven analog astronauts from six different countries (Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru). Each of the crew members had a unique academic profile, ranging from biology, medicine and astrophysics to engineering and journalism.

    As the Co-Commander of LATAM III, I helped to coordinate the logistics of the mission, identify protocols and contingency plans that could be implemented in the event of any unforeseen circumstances during the simulation, and organize activities to strengthen the crew's team spirit. As the Astrophysicist of the group, I used the two MDRS observatories to study the chromosphere of the Sun (e.g. filaments, granulations, spots), observe star clusters to determine their age and distance from Earth, detect minor heavenly bodies (e.g. meteorites), and perform astrophotography of deep-sky objects (e.g. galaxies, supernova remains, and emission and reflection nebulae).


    Observing the Sun with the Musk Telescope.

    I also had the chance to participate in numerous Extra-Vehicular Activities (EVA) to explore the terrain around the MDRS and help my colleagues perform their biological and engineering experiments.


    One of my EVAs at the MDRS.

    CV


    Credit: NASA

    You can find my CV here.

    Last Update: September 2020.

    Publications

    In the field of planetary sciences, I have authored and contributed to 3 peer-reviewed publications, 1 as a first author and 4 as a co-author.

    Peer-Reviewed Papers, as First Author

  • HD 191939: Three Sub-Neptunes Transiting a Sun-like Star Only 54 pc Away

    Badenas-Agusti, M., Günther, M.N., et al., AJ, 160:113 (18pp), 2020. Read the full article [here] or [here].

  • Peer-Reviewed Papers, as Co-Author

  • TESS discovery of a super-Earth and three sub-Neptunes hosted by the bright, Sun-like star HD 108236

    Daylan, T., Pingle, K., Wright, J., Guenther, M. N., Stassun, K G.; Kane, S. R., Vanderburg, A., Jontof-Hutter, D., Rodriguez, J. E., Shporer, A., Huang, C., Mikal-Evans, T., Badenas-Agusti, M., Collins, K. A.; Rackham, B., et al. 2020, Submitted to ApJ. [Read the full article.]

  • HD 219134 revisited: planet d transit upper limit and planet f transit non-detection with ASTERIA and TESS
  • Seager, S., Knapp, M., Demory, B. O., Krishnamurthy, A., Huang, C. X., Badenas-Agusti, M., et al. 2020. Submitted to AAS journals.

  • The K2-ESPRINT Project II: Spectroscopic follow-up of three exoplanet systems from Campaign 1 of K2

    Van Eylen, V., Nowak, G., Albrecht, S., Palle, E., Ribas, I., Bruntt, H., Perger, M., Gandolfi, D., Hirano, T., Sanchis-Ojeda, R., Kiilerich, A., Arranz, J., Badenas, M., Dai, F., et al. ApJ, 820:56 (8pp), 2016. [Read the full article.]

  • The Quadruple Pre-main-sequence System LkCa 3: Implications for Stellar Evolution Models

    Torres, G., Ruiz-Rodríguez, D., Badenas, M., Prato, L., Schaefer, G.H., Wasserman, L. H., Mathieu, R.D., Latham, D. W., ApJ, 773:40 (15pp), 2013. [Read the full article.]


  • Non-peer-reviewed Publications

  • Application of a Hybrid Navigation System for an Autonomous Space Air-Launched Vehicle

    Vallverdú, D., Pou, C., Badenas, M., Diez, E., 9th European Congress on Embedded Real Time Software and Systems, 2018. [Read the full article.]

  • Contact


    Credit: D. Kordan/ESO.

    Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you have any comments or feedback on my work, or would like to collaborate in scientific projects or outreach activities. I look forward to hearing from you!

    Email

    mbadenas [at] mit [dot] edu

    Address

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology
    Deptartment of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences
    77 Massachusetts Avenue, Building 54-1715
    Cambridge, MA, 02139-4307, USA.

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