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Space Frontiers Lecture Series


Probing the Solar Corona: Close Encounters with the Sun

Thursday, March 23
7:00 pm
Herring Hall 100
Reception at 6:30 pm

Dr. Holly Gilbert

Director, Heliophysics Science Division – NASA Goddard Space Flight Center



Our home in space is embedded in the Sun’s extended atmosphere, subjecting the space environment around Earth to dynamic activity that originate in the solar corona. This layer of the solar atmosphere holds many unsolved mysteries that have fascinated humans for ages. We continue to search for answers well into the space age and NASA has a fleet of spacecraft dedicated to studying heliophysics: the Sun and its domain—the heliosphere, including its effects on Earth. Although we currently have a wealth of data and sophisticated modeling that continues to advance our understanding of the Sun-Earth system, we are entering into one of the most exciting eras of heliophysics observations. Solar Probe Plus, which will fly within four million miles of the solar surface, and Solar Orbiter are two synergistic space missions being developed to study the solar corona from a unique viewpoint. Dr. Gilbert will discuss the importance of obtaining data so close to the Sun and its implications for space weather research and forecasting. There is another unique opportunity on the horizon to study the solar corona which she will discuss: the first total solar eclipse in the continental United States in nearly 40 years takes place on Aug. 21, 2017. Beyond providing a brilliant sight in the daytime sky, total solar eclipses provide a rare chance for scientists to collect data only available during eclipses.


 HOLLY GILBERT is Director of the Heliophysics Science Division (HSD) at NASA’s Goddard Space
Flight Center and the NASA Deputy Project Scientist for the Solar Orbiter mission. She has extensive experience studying the solar atmosphere and phenomena associated with coronal mass ejections (CMEs), such as prominences and global waves. Since joining HSD at Goddard in 2008 she has held positions as Associate Director for Science, Chief of the Solar Physics Laboratory, and Deputy Director. Dr. Gilbert obtained a BS in physics from the University of Colorado, Boulder and her PhD in theoretical astrophysics from the University of Oslo in Norway. Prior to joining NASA, Dr. Gilbert was a Research Scientist at Rice University and an Associate Scientist at the High Altitude Observatory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Dr. Gilbert recently received the Women in Aerospace “Aerospace Awareness” award, and the 2015 AGU Athelstan Spilhaus Award. She has also received several NASA Honor Awards and was honored with the dedication of the Dr. Holly Gilbert Solar Telescope at St. George Observatory in Schriever, LA. She has served on numerous committees and currently serves as the elected Vice-Chair/Chair of the Solar Physics Division of the American Astronomical Society.