Kevin Hainline

Kevin Hainline is an astronomer working on the science team for the NIRCam instrument on the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope, NASA’s successor to the Hubble Space Telescope. His research looks at how galaxies change as the universe evolve, focusing on the relationship galaxies have with their central supermassive black holes. He has given hundreds of planetarium shows, spoke at countless elementary high schools and has travelled the world giving night sky shows, sharing his inspirational message about the connection we all have to the universe. He currently lives in a small pink house in Tucson, Arizona, with his wife Lara, a musician, and his cat J. Louisiana, a meower. 

3 words to describe Nature?

Complexity. Truth. Entropy

3 things Nature taught you?

Everything is more complicated than it seems

There is a time for action, just as there is a time for inaction

Life is miraculous, given its inherent chaos

3 most treasured Nature spots?

The deserts of southern Arizona. 

The beaches along the California coast.

The mountains along the southern Atacama desert of Chile.

When you look at the ocean, it makes you feel…?

Overcome. The ocean tells us secrets about where we came from. 

When you see a forest, it makes you feel…?

Nostalgic. Growing up in a city on the coasts meant trips to the forest were special growing up, and the smell of the woods is tied directly to these memories. 

When you see a volcano, it makes you feel…?

Humbled. So much of change on the planet is gradual and incremental, and yet here are these volcanoes violently changing the landscape on human timescales. 

When you see a sunrise or sunset, it makes you feel…?

Eager. For an astronomer, a sunset brings with it the possibilities of the night, and the sunrise is the reminder of our own closest star.

When you hear thunder, it makes you feel…?

Stirred. The thunderstorms in the southwest accompany powerful monsoons, and are unlike anywhere else in the world. You can feel the charge in the air, and the thunder is the pronouncement.

When you hear the wind howling, it makes you feel…?

Charged. The Santa Ana winds haunted me during the autumns my youth. 

Are you an Ocean, Mountain, Forest, or Desert person?

I grew up as an ocean person, but I have recently discovered that I am a desert person. The desert gives back what you give it. It rewards patience, and observation, and endurance. Last week, it snowed about five or six inches. It was surreal, walking through snow-covered cacti and desert shrubs. The desert resists categorization. 

On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is Nature to your well-being?

10. Science is the imperfect human method of understanding nature. Without my relationship with nature, both nature as the universe, and nature as the manifestation of life on our planet, I don’t know who I would be. It is a constant companion, quiet and giving. My current research on NASA’s upcoming flagship space telescope has me excited for the future, because JWST will both help us answer longstanding questions about the history of the universe as well as introduce new fundamental questions. What more could we ask for? 

Share with us a childhood nature memory?

One summer, my father bundled my brother up once and drove us up to Cajon Pass northeast of Los Angeles early in the morning to watch the Perseid meteor shower. My love for astronomy mostly came from reading books as a child, so while I was fascinated by space, it was still very foreign to me. Being able to lay out on the hood of a car, in the stillness of the very early morning, covered in blankets, and see so many stars, was revelatory. It felt less like I was under them but that I was laying in front of them, as a child I felt the push of the Earth through space, towards those meteors which glowed, incandescent, as they fell through the atmosphere.