Weekly Space Hangout: September 16, 2020 – Dr. Merav Opher Discusses the Shape of the Sun’s Heliosphere

Tonight we are pleased to welcome Dr. Merav Opher, Professor from the Astronomy Department of Boston University and the Director of the SHIELD (Solar wind with Hydrogen Ion charge Exchange and Large-Scale Dynamics) DRIVE* Science Center. Using data from NASA’s planetary science missions, SHIELD scientists use data/computer modeling to predict the characteristics of our Sun’s heliosphere. Historically, the heliosphere has been thought to be comet-shaped. However, a paper published in March, 2020, in Nature Astronomy with Dr. Opher (as lead author) and the team from SHIELD present an alternative shape for the heliosphere: one that does not include this tail, but rather resembles a “deflated croissant.”

In addition to being PI at SHIELD, Dr. Opher has held many leadership positions in the Community such as Chair-Elect, American Physical Society Topical Group in Plasma Astrophysics (2017-2018); Member, NRC Committee to Assess the 2012 Solar and Space Physics Decadal Survey (2019); Chair of the Outer Heliosphere subpanel of the Decadal Survey in Space Physics of Solar and Heliospheric Panel (2010-2011).

Her scholarship focuses on understanding our home in the galaxy by striving to unravel the nature and structure of the heliosphere. The heliosphere is the cosmic bubble formed by the solar wind as the Sun moves through the interstellar medium. To date, it is the only astrosphere (the analog of the heliosphere for other stars) that we can study in detail, thanks to the data generated by the Voyager spacecrafts (Voyager 1 and 2) as well as remote observations (by the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) and Cassini spacecrafts).

You can learn more about Dr. Opher by visiting her Boston University webpage at http://people.bu.edu/mopher/.

You can also follow her on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/SHIELDDriveScienceCenter) and Twitter (https://twitter.com/MeravOpher).

You can read more about this latest prediction on the NASA website (https://www.nasa.gov/feature/goddard/2020/uncovering-our-solar-system-s-shape) or read the abstract for the Nature Astronomy article here: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-020-1036-0.

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