S i m o n  P l u n k e t t
Solar Physicist
SOHO Mission

What I do

I am the Operations Scientist for the Large Angle Spectrometric Coronagraph (LASCO), one of the 12 instruments on SOHO. My job is to ensure that the observations that are necessary for the scientific objectives of LASCO get carried out. This often involves balancing competing requests from different members of our scientific team, so that everybody gets the data they need for their particular interest. I also check the data as it is received at the operations control center, to be certain that the observations that were really made are what we expect. This means that I see almost every image that LASCO takes (about 200 every day!), and that I get to work with the engineers and other technical staff who control and operate the SOHO spacecraft.

I also do research in solar coronal physics using the data from LASCO and other telescopes. My main interest is the study of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), huge clouds of gas that are expelled from the solar atmosphere a few times per day. One of the things that I do, connected with my role as Operations Scientist, is to search the LASCO data for CMEs that might be directed towards Earth, where they can cause problems for communications satellites and electric power grids. When one of these events is identified, I alert the NOAA Space Environment Center in Boulder, Colorado, and they use this information in preparing forecasts of "space weather".

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