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Science Briefing

High Altitude Observatory staff traveled to Chile and New Mexico last month for a classic HAO event: observing and documenting a total solar eclipse. This one passed over Putre, Chile, where several minutes of totality on 3 November gave Kim Streander, Dick White, David Elmore, Alice Lecinski, and Greg Card an opportunity to record film and digital images from three coronal cameras. (Other cameras were trained on the researchers themselves. The Cable News Network filed a report from Chile, and British and local media were also on hand.) Some cirrus was present over Putre, but the group hopes that analysis will show the eclipse images were not significantly hurt. The eclipse coincided with the "dia de todos los Santos" (All Saints' Day) celebration and a regional fair, producing a mix of "llamas, tourists, Native Americans, and scientists," as Dick and Kim put it. Their summary after three hectic days of instrument placement, calibration, and data collection: "Everyone is tired. Packing. Like Chile! Sell condo, car, etc. Send proceeds! Enlisting in Chilean army."

The Chilean effort was complemented by the third launch of the Woods rocket, managed by HAO's Tom Woods. The NASA rocket left White Sands Missile Range on the day of the eclipse bearing several new x-ray and ultraviolet imagers. Full-disk solar irradiance values and coronal images were taken at wavelengths of 17.5, 30.4, and 121.6 nanometers (the primary emission wavelengths for iron, helium, and hydrogen in the solar corona) to supplement the Chilean data. The project's other goal, in conjunction with the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, is to study variability of the solar extreme ultraviolet irradiance and its influence on the upper atmosphere. HAO investigators include Tom, Don Hassler, Tom Holzer, Gary Rottman, and graduate student John Worden. Engineers Greg Ucker and Ray Wrigley worked with the NCAR machine shop to fabricate the new imagers.

Photo of solar eclipse
This photo of the solar corona was taken during the total eclipse at Putre, Chile, at 12:18 Greenwich mean time on 3 November. The Newkirk camera system photographed the corona in red light through a filter that suppressed the bright inner corona in order to show the much fainter streamers of the outer corona at the same time. Because the photograph was taken late in the eclipse, prominences on the east limb are visible. (For this and for solar images in general, north is at the top, east at left, and west at right.) Other features of note are the polar plumes and the nonradial nature of the southwestern streamer. A coronal mass ejection was observed in the vicinity of this streamer by NCAR's Mauna Loa Solar Observatory about ten hours after the eclipse. (Photo courtesy Alice Lecinski and HAO.)


One of NCAR's first and finest was honored recently in a daylong set of talks. The Philip Duncan Thompson Symposium, held at the Mesa Lab on 30 November, recapped the scientific and personal influence of Phil, NCAR's first associate director and an atmospheric scientist with over four decades of accomplishment. John Lewis (National Severe Storms Laboratory) presented a meteorological family tree that began with 19th-century pioneer Hermann von Helmholtz and extended to Phil, his NCAR colleagues Joe Tribbia and Akira Kasahara, and others who have "used mathematical physics to seek solutions to dynamical problems."

Though a number of people who wished to express their high regard for Phil were unable to attend in person, their thoughts were included in written testimonials to Phil. For example, long-time friend Aksel Wiin-Nielsen (assistant director of NCAR's Laboratory for Atmospheric Sciences at the time Phil was its director) could not attend. However, Joe Tribbia delivered Aksel's scheduled speech, which addressed Phil's long-term scientific and adminstrative achievements and afforded a personal glimpse of Phil's warm and intelligent personality. Mel Shapiro (NOAA) read a letter from Arnt Eliassen, a long-time colleague now based in Norway, who noted that Phil's scientific intuition "was very much guided by his strong aesthetic sense. He demanded from scientific theory that it should be beautiful and elegant." Eliassen also cited Phil's "wonderful command of the English language." Speakers present included Earl Droessler (North Carolina State University), Joseph Fletcher (NOAA), Will Kellogg (NCAR), Chuck Leith (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory), Doug Lilly (University of Oklahoma), Gerald North (Texas A&M University), and WarrenWashington (NCAR).

According to Joe, "The symposium succeeded in honoring Phil's accomplishments in science and his leadership role at the Institute for Advanced Studies, the Air Force Cambridge Research Lab, the Joint Numerical Weather Prediction Unit, and NCAR, in a manner in which Phil would approve--discussing the scientific merit of these activities."

Among the more personal reminiscences shared was the influence of Phil's father, a botanist at the University of Illinois. Chester Newton (NCAR) noted that other faculty from Illinois would visit Phil's boyhood home bearing puzzles and quizzes, which Phil loved. "Phil was also a historian of science," recalls NCAR archivist Diane Rabson, who recorded the symposium for posterity. "He was active in our oral history projects and served on the NCAR history committee."


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Edited by Bob Henson, bhenson@ucar.edu
Last revised: Wed Mar 29 12:22:22 MST 2000