Rick Smith

PhD Student

Portrait Photo of Rick Smith

The Kuiper Belt is one of the least-altered populations of planetesimals in the solar system. Understanding the surfaces and compositions of Kuiper Belt Objects (KBOs) can give us a rare insight into the composition of the Solar Systems’ protoplanetary disk from which they formed.

Binary objects give us additional information about a planetesimal population as they can be used to estimate their masses and densities. The presence and properties of binaries in the Kuiper Belt also tell us about the effects of Solar System evolution, such as the migration of Neptune. My work focuses on determining the surface properties of binary KBOs. To do this, I’ve developed an image analysis code to measure the colours of binary KBOs using data from the Hubble Space Telescope archive. I can then compare these binary properties with the KBO populations.


Before starting my PhD at QUB, I studied an MPhys in Astrophysics at the University of Liverpool, graduating with First Class Honours. My Master’s project looked at the effects of the Zeipel-Kozai-Lidov mechanism in multiple star systems, with particular focus on the effects on planets in the systems. I also undertook annual Ogden Trust internships over the summer months between university studies involving work on a range of topics, including examining solar wind discontinuities with STEREO spacecraft data at the University of Southampton and constructing and testing the Manchester University Student Telescope (“MUST”) radio telescope at Jodrell Bank Observatory.

I’ve been able to go on observing runs to the Isaac Newton Telescope on La Palma during my PhD studies, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I also attended the NEON Observing School 2018 in Asiago, Italy, which provided lectures and hands-on training of a range of observing techniques.

Research Interests

  • Transneptunian Objects
  • Binary solar system objects
  • Observational Astronomy