Estela Fernández-Valenzuela is a post-doctoral researcher at the Florida Space Institute as part of the Preeminent Postdoctoral program at the University of Central Florida. She completed her degree in Physics at the Complutense University of Madrid. She received a Master’s degree in Astrophysics at the same university while collaborating with the University of Jaén, studying blazars with photometric techniques. Thereafter, she moved to the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Granada, where she carried out research activities that led her to her Ph.D. in Physics and Space Science from the University of Granada. Her thesis dealt primarily with the application of photometry at optical wavelengths to the study of trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs) and centaurs.
Her research interest is the study of the origin of the Solar System, including how it was formed and which physical processes were responsible for the actual conditions. More precisely, she is interested in the small objects orbiting in the outer part of the Solar System, those called trans-Neptunian objects. She is an expert in the use of photometric techniques to analyze the light curves of these objects. Through this technique, different physical parameters, such as rotational period, shape and density, can be obtained. She is also very interested in the stellar occultation technique, which has been successfully used in the last few years to obtain information on the size and shape of small bodies. This technique enabled the discovery of Haumea’s ring, the first ring observed around a trans-Neptunian object. Estela was a co-author and co-discoverer of this breakthrough.
Currently, she is involved in ground-based observations in support of the Lucy mission, which is expected to be launched in October 2021, with the aim of studying the trojan asteroids. Lucy will flyby 6 Jupiter trojans and one main belt asteroid. It will be the first mission to visit these primitive bodies of the Solar System. Additionally, Estela is working on using Spitzer Space Telescope data to study the surface composition of TNOs.