NASA VOYAGER PANEL TO FEATURE BU ASTRONOMER MERAV OPHER

in In the News
April 22nd, 2011

NASA VOYAGER PANEL TO FEATURE BU ASTRONOMER MERAV OPHER
Experts review program’s findings as the twin probes approach interstellar space

(Boston) — On April 28, 2011, NASA will host an event about the 33-year journey of NASA’s twin Voyager spacecraft to the edge of the solar system, which now are more than 10 billion miles away from the sun. Merav Opher, assistant professor of astronomy and a Voyager guest investigator, will be one of the panel members for the event, to be broadcast live on NASA TV.

The event celebrates the accomplishments of the Voyager mission as its two probes continue to explore an uncharted region located beyond the solar system’s known planets that forms the outer boundary of the solar bubble. In a few years, the probes will transition into the medium between stars known as interstellar space.

Panel members will discuss how a unique idea became scientific legend, the exotic region of space Voyagers are exploring right now and where they’re going, what it will mean to leave the sun’s sphere of influence, the vision that led to sending a message from Earth to possible life elsewhere in the galaxy, and Voyagers’ enduring impact.

Opher will address a number of the Voyager program’s significant findings and contributions to the exploration of space, including Voyager’s influence on the rising generation of scientists and the impact Voyager data have had on the scientific community at large. She also will describe her first experience with Voyager, share anecdotes about joining the Voyager team, and discuss her specific areas of interest in the Voyager data and her expectations going forward with the program.

“It’s a dream to be able to have direct access to the data that is revolutionizing our understanding of how stars interact with their surrounding media. It’s making us revisit our notions of the properties and what we know about sheaths and astrospheres,” says Opher.

Opher’s research has focused on how plasma and magnetic effects reveal themselves in astrophysical and space physics environments and, in particular, how stars interact with the surrounding media, how the solar system interacts with the local interstellar medium, and the interaction of extra-solar planets with their host stars. Opher notes that the Voyager data led to the discovery of how interstellar magnetic fields play a major role in shaping the heliosphere, producing assymetries that are measurable. “We are arriving at the notion that the magnetic field outside our home, earth, is strong and important enough to influence and shape its structure.”

Opher has been a pioneer in the use of advanced, 3D computational models to investigate stellar phenomena. She also has studied how magnetic disturbances are driven and propagate from the sun to earth. She has a PhD in astronomy from the University of Sao Paulo, Brazil, and received her postdoctoral training at the Plasma Group of the Physics Department at the University of California, Los Angeles. She also was a Caltech Scholar at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Before coming to Boston University, she was an associate professor of astronomy at George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia.

Other panel members include Ed Stone, Voyager project scientist and professor of physics, California Institute of Technology; Ann Druyan, creative director, Voyager Interstellar Message Project (Carl Sagan’s co-writer and widow); and Suzanne Dodd, Voyager project manager, Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA has invited elementary and high school classrooms to submit questions about the Voyager mission and interstellar space to the panel, some of which will be answered during the live NASA TV broadcast.

For additional information about the Voyager program and this event, visit http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/events/voyager.cfm, and
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/voyager/

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