What it’s like to be a solar scientist
As one of the younger members of the UK’s STEREO team, I thought it would be nice to provide a few updates about what a scientist does day-to-day. I am currently coming to the end of my PhD, and am therefore busily writing up a thesis. But, of course, there are a few more interesting things to talk about apart from me sitting in front of a computer!
A lot of my work uses the Heliospheric Imagers on the STEREO spacecraft. In particular, I have been spending my time looking at solar storm case studies, and analysing the overall shape of them. The simplest approximation to the shape of a solar storm is a cylinder. If you observe one end on, you will see a circular shape. I found a perfect example of one that happened in February 2008, using the STEREO Ahead spacecraft (in the pictures below the front half of the circle fades away fast but, a semi circle of the rear edge of a circle can be seen further into space). I then spent some time analysing how this storm grew in size as it travelled away from the Sun.
Previously, scientists have looked at the size of solar storms at different locations in space and have predicted the growth rate. My work was the first time that we have been able to monitor a single solar storm this far away for the Sun.
One problem with my analysis is that solar storms, like hurricanes on Earth, are incredibly variable from one case to another. It would be fantastic if we could find more examples of near-perfect circular storms. We could then build up a better picture. So let me know if you spot anything interesting, and keep up with the great work.