Interview With Dr. Diana Scognamiglio, JPL Postdoctoral Fellow

Square & Compass Promotions
Operations Research Bit
7 min readMar 11, 2024

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To be a Freemason is to be a life-long learner…especially in the areas of the Liberal Arts and Sciences…ESPECIALLY in the area of geometry.

Interview With Dr. Diana Scognamiglio, JPL Postdoctoral Fellow

Square & Compass has had the pleasure of interviewing several NASA (and other) scientists regarding space exploration, modern understandings of space and the universe, and the ways in which geometry informs our understanding of the universe. This has included both written interviews on our medium page and through our YouTube channel.

We present our interview with Dr. Diana Scognamiglio JPL Postdoctoral Fellow at the Astrophysics & Space Sciences Section. For Freemasons in particular, her explanation as to the connections between geometry and space exploration are fascinating!

Start with the basics-who are you and what is your position within the Euclid Consortium?

  • I am a postdoctoral researcher in Observational Cosmology and, I have been part of the Euclid Consortium for the past five years. During this time, I have led a project focused on the ‘Euclidization’ of HST data for weak lensing* analysis. Currently, I am also involved in co-developing a pipeline to precisely measure the shape of galaxies observed by Euclid.
  • * “Weak lensing” refers to the distortion of light caused by the warping of spacetime, as predicted by Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. In simple terms, mass bends light!

Freemasonry can be and is connected to ideas related to space exploration, especially as Freemasonry encourages the study of the liberal arts and sciences. Also, many geometric principles (the basis of our art) connect to space exploration (i.e.-general theory of relativity). In this day and age, why is space exploration important?

  • The desire to explore the cosmos has been present since the dawn of time. The thirst for knowledge has always fueled astronomical studies, whether for religious, divinatory reasons, or for predicting events. Since ancient times, humans have gleaned much information about the universe simply by observing the sky. With the invention of the telescope, humanity managed to delve deeper into celestial dynamics, finally opening a “window” onto the universe and its rules. Nowadays, technological advancements and increasingly frequent space explorations have further expanded the field of inquiry and our understanding of the cosmos.
  • Space exploration allows us to expand our understanding of the universe. Through telescopes, probes, and missions, we gain insights into celestial bodies, cosmic phenomena, and the fundamental principles governing the universe. This knowledge enhances our understanding of physics and astronomy.
  • In addition, space exploration drives innovation and technological progress. The challenges of space travel push the boundaries of engineering, materials science, and computing. Technologies developed for space missions often find applications in everyday life, such as satellite communications, medical imaging, and environmental monitoring.
  • Last but not least, space exploration inspires wonder, curiosity, and the exploration of the unknown. It captures the imagination of people worldwide and motivates individuals to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

In what ways are Geometry and Space/Space Exploration connected? How does one affect the other?

  • Geometry and space exploration are intertwined disciplines that rely on each other for navigation, design, mapping, understanding the universe’s geometry, and predicting celestial phenomena. Geometry provides the mathematical framework for exploring and navigating onto the space. For instance, it plays a crucial role in calculating trajectories and orbits for spacecraft, as well as influencing their design and construction.
  • As an observational cosmologist, I can mention that Einstein’s theory of general relativity describes the gravitational interactions between celestial bodies in terms of the curvature of space-time. Concepts from differential geometry are essential for understanding and applying General Relativity to phenomena such as black holes, gravitational waves, and the expanding Universe.

We’ve had scientists on the Square & Compass Podcast to discuss the Euclid Mission but, in this format, can you tell us what the Euclid Mission is and what it hopes to accomplish?

  • The Euclid mission is a medium-class mission of the European Space Agency (ESA) with a duration of 6 years. It was successfully launched on July 1st, 2023, from Cape Canaveral. I was there, and it was truly amazing! Euclid is currently positioned approximately 930,000 miles from Earth in the direction opposite the sun, in technical terms at the Lagrange point 2, and it has started to observe the sky.
  • During its duration, Euclid will map approximately 33% of the entire sky with the aim of understanding the expansion of the Universe. Its primary goal is to unravel the nature of the main components of our universe — dark energy and dark matter, about a billion galaxies.

In what ways is the Euclid Mission connected to ideas related to geometry?

  • The Euclid mission is named after the ancient Greek mathematician Euclid of Alexandria, who pioneered the field of geometry. The mission’s name reflects the connection between the density of matter and energy and the geometric structure of the universe.

I understand in November of 2023, the Euclid Space Mission released its first images, showcasing “crystal-clear views of hundreds of thousands of galaxies, star clusters and other stunning cosmic objects.” What can you tell us about these images and what was it like for yourself, as someone who is working on the Euclid Project, to see those images.

  • Yes, in November 2023, Euclid released five images, showcasing its potential and capability. Euclid observed the Perseus Cluster of galaxies, revealing 1000 galaxies belonging to this cluster, and more than 100,000 additional galaxies further away in the background. Many of these faint galaxies were previously unseen. It was the first time that such a large image allowed us to capture so many Perseus galaxies in such high detail.
  • The second image was IC 342, which is best known as the “Hidden Galaxy” because it lies behind thick Milky Way dust. However, with its infrared eye, Euclid has already uncovered crucial information about the stars in that galaxy. Irregular and small galaxies are the building blocks for larger galaxies, like our own. Hence, the irregular galaxy NGC 6822, the third image, is a valuable target for studying the formation and evolution of galaxies. The fourth images showed the globular cluster NGC 6397, which is the second-closest globular cluster to Earth. It is a collection of hundreds of thousands of stars held together by gravity, which Euclid was able to observe in one single observation, thanks to its large field of view. These faint stars tell us about the history of the Milky Way and the distribution of dark matter.
  • Finally with the fifth images, Euclid provided a detailed view of the Horsehead Nebula, a dark nebula located in the constellation of Orion, a region of active star formation. By studying the structure and dynamics of the nebula, we can gain insights into the processes involved in the formation of stars and planetary systems.
  • Seeing these images was not only inspiring but also served as validation for the extensive efforts put into planning, designing, and constructing the mission’s instruments and spacecraft over the years. Witnessing the tangible results of the collective labor of many people through these vivid views of cosmic objects has been profoundly gratifying. It fuels our enthusiasm and eagerness to explore further, pushing the limits of our understanding of the Universe’s mysteries.

What is next for the Euclid Space Mission? How long will the Euclid satellite continue to release images?

  • As I said, Euclid has already begun surveying the sky — a patch covering 130 square degrees, which is more than 500 times the area of the full Moon. The data collected in this first year will be released to the community in summer 2026. A smaller data release of a particular patch of sky observed for extended periods, known as ‘deep field observations’, is planned for spring 2025.

Even though it is relatively early in the mission, what are some of the challenges and successes the mission has faced?

  • In the journey of complex missions like Euclid, challenges arise. Euclid’s Fine Guidance Sensor, crucial for getting sharp images, was intermittently hit by cosmic rays and solar protons. Software updates resolved this issue but extended the commissioning phase, delaying the performance verification phase. During the performance verification phase, we discovered that a very small amount of light was being reflected repeatedly on the spacecraft’s surfaces. This produced stray light that impacted the visible light detector, disturbing Euclid’s capability to observe very faint galaxies. Rotating the spacecraft by two and a half degrees eliminated this issue. It’s important to note that these challenges are part of the commissioning period, where every potential issue is scrutinized by experts and solved to ensure minimal impact on the mission’s objectives.
  • Despite these setbacks, Euclid remains focused on capturing breathtaking and scientifically significant images, which I consider a huge success!

What most excites you about space exploration and about where NASA and the space sciences are headed?

  • We are in an incredibly exciting time: NASA is involved in different missions aimed at understanding the universe and testing the current model of cosmology with projects like Euclid and the Nancy Roman Telescope. Additionally, NASA is studying planets in the solar system and their moons through missions such as Europa Clipper, Perseverance and Curiosity Rover, SWOT for the oceans on our planet, and the Parker Solar Probe for the sun. Furthermore, NASA aims to bring back humans to the Moon with Artemis, among other endeavors.
  • The prospect of unravelling the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy, discovering new planets, and exploring the potential for life beyond Earth is truly exhilarating. Moreover, advancements in technology and collaboration among international space agencies promise to push the boundaries of human knowledge and inspire future generations of scientists and explorers. The prospect of what lies beyond our current understanding is both humbling and thrilling, driving us to explore and discover the wonders of the cosmos.

What most concerns you about space exploration and about where NASA and the space sciences are headed?

  • One of my primary concerns regarding space exploration and the trajectory of NASA and space sciences is the sustainability and responsible stewardship of space resources. As human activity in space increases, there’s a growing risk of space debris accumulation, posing hazards to spacecraft and satellites in orbit. Another concern is the financial and political uncertainties surrounding space exploration can impact long-term planning and investment in scientific research and exploration missions. Ensuring sustained funding and bipartisan support for space exploration initiatives is essential for advancing humanity’s knowledge and capabilities in space.

All opinions expressed are those of Square & Compass Promotions and the guest(s), and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Windsor Masonic Temple or any Masonic group.

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Square & Compass Promotions
Operations Research Bit

Square & Compass Promotions explores the many ways in which Freemasonry is relevant to our communities. We share both Masonic & Personal stories.