Kynan Hughson, PhD

Planetary Research Scientist



Kynan is a Planetary Research Scientist in the Planetary Habitability and Technology Lab at The Georgia Institute of Technology. He works on understanding the geological, geophysical, and hydrological processes that shape the surfaces of icy asteroids and worlds in our solar system.

Kynan obtained his B.Sc. in Geology and Physics at the University of New Brunswick with honours in geology, a minor in math, and a focus on impact cratering and shock metamorphism. He earned his M.S. and Ph.D. in Geophysics and Space Physics at the University of California Los Angeles. During his graduate studies at UCLA, Kynan contributed to the geologic mapping of the dwarf planet Ceres, a multi-year effort that produced the first global map of any dwarf planet in our solar system. His research focused on the links between observable surface features on Ceres, such as landslides, impact craters, and valleys, and what they tell us about its internal structure and composition. In conjunction with other Dawn Team members, Kynan’s work established that, like Earth and Mars, Ceres has abundant reserves of ground ice.

Kynan’s current and proposed research takes aim at better understanding periglacial and groundwater processes on Earth, Mars, Ceres, and icy moons through a combination of observation, computer modeling, and the geophysical examination of terrestrial polar analogs. He also works on future exploration technologies for accessing the deep subsurface oceans of many icy moon, and for high-detail mapping of ground ice on Mars and Ceres. Kynan recently received funding for his Pingo SubTerranean Aquifer Reconnaissance and Reconstruction (Pingo STARR) project through NASA's Planetary Science and Technology through Analog Research (PSTAR) program. Pingo STARR is a four-year (2020-2024) field campaign using geophysical methods to examine the subsurface structure of Pingos.

Kynan and his wife, Michelle, currently live in Atlanta, where they enjoy backcountry camping, board games, and ballroom dancing.

Current and Recent Research

Pingos and hydrologic systems

Pingos are ice-cored hills that grow in permafrost conditions on the Earth. Thanks to spacecraft observations, we know there are similar looking features on Mars and Ceres. This ongoing research aims to better determine if these enigmatic alien hills are hydrologically related to pingos.

Mechanical properties of cerean material

The topographic expressions of valleys, scarps, and cliffs are directly related to the structural and mechanical properties of the subsurface. This research examined the mechanical and structural properties of Ceres below Nar Sulcus, a unique fracture system located within the Yalode crater.

Impact cratering of frozen worlds

A fraction of craters on Mars, Ganymede, Charon, and Ceres exhibit unusual lobate ejecta morphologies. These flows of ejected material are thought to be due to the presence of ice in the subsurface. This research explores the implications of lobate ejecta on the surface properties of Ceres.

Geologic mapping of Ceres

The geologic mapping campaign of Ceres produced the first global map of a dwarf planet in our solar system. This collaborative effort between NASA, INAF, and DLR uncovered unexpected geological marvels including craters, mountains, landslides, faults, and evaporites.



Lead Author

Hughson, K. H. G., et al. (2019), Fluidized appearing ejecta on Ceres: Implications for the mechanical properties, frictional properties, and composition of its shallow subsurface, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Hughson, K. H. G., et al. (2019), Normal faults on Ceres: Insights into the mechanical properties and thermal history of Nar Sulcus, Geophysical Research Letters 46, 80-88.

Hughson, K. H. G., et al. (2018), The Ac‐5 (Fejokoo) quadrangle of Ceres: Geologic map and geomorphological evidence for ground ice mediated surface processes, Icarus 316, 63-83.


Schimdt, B. E., et al. (2020), Post-impact cryo-hydrologic formation of small mounds and hills in Ceres’s Occator crater, Nature Geoscience.

Park, R. S., et al. (2020), Evidence of non-uniform crust of Ceres from Dawn’s high-resolution gravity data, Nature Astronomy 4, 748-755.


Duarte, K. D., et al. (2019), Landslides on Ceres: Diversity and Geologic Context, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.


Chilton, H. T., et al. (2019), Landslides on Ceres: Inferences into ice content and layering in the upper crust, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Ermakov, A. I., et al. (2019), Surface Roughness and Gravitational Slope Distributions of Vesta and Ceres, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Singh, S., et al. (2019), Mineralogy mapping of the Ac-H-5 Fejokoo quadrangle of Ceres, Icarus 318, 147-169.

Combe, J. ‐P., et al. (2019), Exposed H2O‐rich areas detected on Ceres with the dawn visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, Icarus 318, 22-41.

Buczkowski, D. L. , et al. (2018), Floor-Fractured Craters on Ceres and Implications for Interior Processes, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets 123, 3188-3204.

Sizemore, H. G., et al. (2018), A Global Inventory of Ice‐Related Morphological Features on Dwarf Planet Ceres: Implications for the evolution and current state of the cryosphere, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

Platz, T., et al. (2018), Geological mapping of the Ac-10 Rongo Quadrangle of Ceres, Icarus 316, 140-153.

Scully, J. E. C., et al. (2018), Ceres’ Ezinu quadrangle: A heavily cratered region with evidence for localized subsurface water ice and the context for Occator crater, Icarus 316, 46-62.

Ruesch, O., et al. (2018), Geology of Ceres’ north pole quadrangle with Dawn FC imaging data, Icarus 316, 14-27.

Sizemore, H. G., et al. (2017), Pitted terrains on (1) Ceres and implications for shallow subsurface volatile distribution, Geophysical Research Letters 44, 6570-6578.

Schmidt, B. E., et al. (2017), Geomorphological evidence for ground ice on dwarf planet Ceres, Nature Geoscience 10, 338-343.

Buczkowski, D. L., et al. (2016), The geomorphology of Ceres, Science 353, Issue 6303.

Combe, J. ‐P., et al. (2016), Detection of local H2O exposed at the surface of Ceres, Science 353, Issue 6303.


Press Releases

August 10, 2020

The 'Pingo' Connection: Making a Data Mountain out of Ice-Cored Hills — on Earth and a Dwarf Planet

High-resolution Dawn data reveal small hills in Occator Crater not previously resolved. the Shape and distribution of these hills imply a cryohydrologic origin.


College of Sciences


Education and Affiliations


Georgia Institute of Technology

Research Scientist - July 2020 to Present

Postdoctoral Scientist - June 2019 to July 2020


University of California Los Angeles

PhD, Geophysics and Space Physics - June 2019
MS, Geophysics and Space Physics - June 2017

University of New Brunswick

BSc, Geology and Physics, minor in Math - May 2014