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New Pictures Added!

Gallery page of the updated photo website

Gallery page of the updated photo website

The photography website has been redesigned and many new pictures and galleries have been added! These include new photos from a recent trip to Yosemite National Park with Braden and Carol (where the Aunt and Uncle got to meet Baby Jackson for the first time). Also new pictures of the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC and some new attempts at touch-up and color enhancement of some pictures.

Enjoy the new site, and please don’t hesitate to leave comments or feedback about any of the pictures on that website or here!

You can find the new website here:


Spring is in the air

I’ve officially settled into my new job and looking for a new distraction from the pending thesis – I defend on April 27th! So, I’m blogging to put off the homework for just a few more hours 🙂 Hopefully I’ll keep up the posts this time around.

Phillip and I spent a good part of the weekend enjoying the nice weather. On Saturday afternoon we walked to the zoo to check out the new elephant walk. A long path winding through the zoo. Only the initial part of the project is complete but at its completion it will be several miles of path with ample grass and watering holes for elephant play. We reached the bridge to find a very thirsty baby elephant alone in the area. He was very cute and super active, spraying water and circling his watering hole. It was only then that we finally made the connection that it was spring and the zoo must be full of babies, just like this elephant.

We passed the orangutans who were inside, avoiding the hail storm. We spotted a baby barely visible through his mother’s arms. In the same building we were able to check out Phillip’s beloved gorillas. He especially likes the massive, male gorilla who is literally bigger than I am and smells unthinkably bad. But, I think the size is what amuses Phillip. Unfortunately, “biggie” as Phillip affectionately refers to the male gorilla, was missing in action.

We braved the storm as an attempt to recover from the sadness that came from missing “biggie” and were pleasantly surprised to find 7 – yes 7 – lion cubs. You can see them in the photo with their mom in the lower left and dad in the upper right. They were teeter-tootering on the limb at the right.

Overall the trip was wonderful, rain, sleet, hail, babies and all.

Saturday night was spent with the boys (plus Hannah) watching the Final Four games and the girls heading to a 90s Dance Party. The Russla (another nick name coined by Phillip for our friends Russ & Carla) time was much-needed, the 90s dance party brought me all the way back to middle school, every added night of bonding with the new roommate, Allison, leaves me happier to have her in our house and ending the night with a return to Hannah and the boys having a HORSE (we have a plastic hoop attached to the closet door) tournament rounded out an amazing fun evening. Plus, as icing on the cake, we got to see Mark & Meg! Happy to have such an amazing set of people DC to spend my Saturday nights with.


see, you do need us!

Out-of-control satellite threatens spacecraft

“The satellite’s manufacturer, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Virginia, says an intense solar storm in early April may be to blame.”


An Introduction to Solar Physics

Last week both Phillip and I spent a significant amount of time with children. I was leading the ‘bring your child to work day’ for my branch at the Naval Research Laboratory. And, Phillip spent the day as the Education and Public Outreach scientist at the first light press conference for his recently launched satellite, SDO, Solar Dynamics Observatory.

In honor of this experience, I wanted to take a few minutes to explain the basic what and why of Heliophysics. For reference, NASA’s Science Directorate has four sub-categories: the Earth, the Planets, Astrophysics and Heliophysics. So, to start, we know that Heliophysics is not the study of the Earth, the Planets or the Stars.

WHAT: NASA defines Heliophysics (a word which NASA scientists created) as the study of the Sun and its effect on the Earth and our Solar system. Let’s start with the Sun. Basically, you can think of the sun as a pot of boiling spaghetti. The burner is like the Sun’s core which generates its energy by nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium, the spaghetti represents the turbulent magnetic field of the sun, and the steam represents the solar wind that is ejected from the Sun’s outer layers and is composed of charged particles and plasma.

Solar Wind: Taken from SDO Imager

Next we have the Earth. During quiet times, our magnetosphere protects us from the solar wind. However, solar storms (often referred to as coronal mass eruptions) alter the makeup of solar wind. The more powerful storms are able to disturb our Earth’s magnetosphere and inject energetic particles into the lower levels of the Earth’s atmosphere.

WHY: NASA, as well as most of the Defense Agencies, are interested in Heliophysics and fund the continued research in this field. Most funding agencies look to scientists to establish a method to predict space weather. The solar wind carries a massive amount of energy as it travels through space. Space Weather (No, JP, I didn’t make this up!) defines the changes that the plasma and particles of the solar wind create in the Earth’s atmosphere.

The aurora are an example of a positive outcome of these storms. No doubt you have all seen a picture of an aurora in your lives, and few would refer to these events as less than spectacular to witness. However, many of the effects of solar storms are not so highly regarded. Many storms are so massive that they disturb our protective magnetosphere. Any disturbance of the magnetosphere could lead to highly energetic particles impairing satellites, impacting astronauts or causing power disturbances on the Earth’s surface.

I’m going to use Phillip’s PhD thesis as an example of what a heliophysics scientist may study. Phillip created an empirical model of the solar irradiance spectrum FISM His model uses the scarce, intermittent data available from satellites above the Earth’s atmosphere as an input and calculates a full, expanded spectrum of irradiance over all wavelengths. I know this may be a lot to understand – irradiance is still a hard concept for me and I’ve been studying the Sun for 5 years! For another way to understand this problem, imagine you create a focus group to find out the percentage of people who like the color red and you divide your participants by age. But, no one in your group is of the ages 5, 10 or 15. When you plot the results, you will have data gaps in your plot. Phillip’s model works with irradiance data that isn’t complete, just like your focus group was incomplete. He uses his knowledge of physics and his experience working with other solar data sets to calculate the missing pieces of data. Why is it so important that we have a complete plot? The irradiance spectrum allows scientists to track the changes in the Sun’s energy output. Changes in the Sun’s energy output effect the Earth’s atmosphere. His model focuses on tracking changes that occur during storms, as these events are most likely to cause an impact at Earth.

FISM Example

For my current project at work, I investigate the changes of the magnetic field (the boiling spaghetti). Specifically, I am looking at the magnetic field configuration and dynamics after solar coronal mass ejections occur. I’ll be sure to include another post when I have more results!

Again, the long term goal, for both of our projects, focus on predictive capabilities. The million dollar question for a Heliophysics scientist asks “when will each storm hit the Earth and how much energy will it carry with it?” To answer this question, we need to understand why and under what conditions each storm develops.

PS. I won’t have time to post next week. My finals are on Monday, May 10th. Wish me luck!

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