The Catholic University of America

Oct. 13, 2010

Two CUA Physicists Win NASA Grants to Study the Sun

  Seiji Yashiro

Two CUA physicists have been awarded NASA grants totaling almost $849,000 to study the often fraught relationship between the sun and Earth.

Leon Ofman, a research professor of physics, and Seiji Yashiro, a research associate in the physics department, received the federal monies to probe for a deeper understanding of solar activity and its effects on everything from electrical power outages to GPS tracking devices.

“These grants will lead to a better understanding of how the sun-Earth interaction works,” said Fred Bruhweiler, director of the Institute for Astrophysics and Computational Sciences at CUA. As an example of one large interaction, he cited coronal mass ejections, which occur during times of elevated solar activity.

“They can intersect with the Earth and get dumped on the Earth’s magnetic field and affect the power grid and help cause large power outages, such as on the East Coast and Quebec a few years ago," Bruhweiler said.

Yashiro’s grant is for $422,269 over three years. It will fund a study of coronal events such as solar storms, which can destroy satellites and GPS tracking systems.

“We want to understand why these things happen,” Yashiro said. “We’ve made a statistical catalog of ejections. Now we want to study all of these things with greater depth.”

Leon Ofman  

Ofman’s grant is for $426,088 over four years. It will fund an analysis of the work of the Extreme Ultraviolet Imaging Spectrometer (EIS), one of three telescopes for studying the sun, on Hinode, a Japanese satellite launched into outer space in 2006.

“We will be studying images of the sun in various spectral emission lines obtained with EIS,” Ofman said. “The EIS instrument breaks the solar light into its’ constituent 'colors' or spectrum, pretty much like the raindrops break the sunlight and produce the rainbow. By studying the details of these 'colors,’ we can understand better the processes that heat the solar corona and produce solar storms, which can damage communications, satellites and astronauts.”

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