B a r b a r a  T h o m p s o n
Astrophysicist
NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
SOHO Lost and Found

    Barbara Thompson describes what it's like to work with the SOHO spacecraft, and how she felt when communications were lost in Fall 1998, and then re-established.

Here we are at the operations center for SOHO. The Ops center has 4 functions. The first and most important one is to make sure that SOHO-the instrument and the spacecraft-is safe and healthy. We can't do anything unless the instruments are healthy. The 2nd function is that we serve as a data collection facility: the data which is being collected by the spacecraft is being downlinked here. The 3rd thing is that we organize the campaigns (what researchers call a set of experiments within a limited period of time) and the observations. And the 4th thing, which I think is kind of the most fun, is that we look at the data as it comes down and use that as an assessment of the solar climate.

SOHO is a wonderful spacecraft to work with. As part of the ISTP (the International Solar-Terrestrial Physics) program, there are a number of spacecraft preparing for "solar maximum." SOHO observes the Sun, the source of these eruptions, and so we are the first to see everything. If there is an eruption beginning on the Sun, give us a half an hour and there's a good chance that we might already be seeing what's happening. It's an incredible feeling. You can see this thing forming on the Sun and you know that maybe there might be 36 hours, there might be 72 hours, 100 hours before this thing hits Earth. But we see it only an hour after it's started to happen. We see the very beginning of it as it's evolving and developing into this enormous eruption. These things can be 30 million miles across, and so to see these things actually forming as a little dot on the Sun is pretty phenomenal.


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