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My work and career: The importance of the Sun


My work and career: How is an aurora formed?
Joan Feynman Scientist
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Aurora is a word I mean... I use because everybody knows what an aurora is. What science I did was the processes that went into auroras, the kind of physics that were involved but never the aurora itself.

You and I went to Sweden once and I was going to give a talk on the aurora in northern Sweden. When I got there, it was the winter. Everything was perfect for aurora but there were no auroras. So I had to give a talk on why there are no auroras this winter. And the reason was because the sun was very quiet.

There were two theories. When the solar wind comes past the earth, it confines the earth's magnetic field to a kind of a bubble thing with a long tail. And the question is, how does that interaction take place? Is it that the momentum of the solar wind? Is it... What is it? And it wasn't known whether it was something like the momentum or something to do with the magnetic field of the two. And I showed that the strongest interaction was when the magnetic field of the earth was confined to the place where the solar wind impinged on the magnetic field of the earth's. Where the two of them, the magnet Z component that is perpendicular to the... to the earth's sunline. When the Z components of them were lined up, which was not the same because of the shape of things, was not the south component of the earth's field. It was the relative direction at the earth that... which it should had. And that was basic in choosing between the two different things.

Joan Feynman (1927-2020) was an American astrophysicist. She made important contributions to the study of solar wind particles and fields, sun-Earth relations and magnetospheric physics. In particular, Feynman was known for developing an understanding of the origin of auroras. During her career, Feynman was an author or co-author of more than 100 scientific publications. She also edited three scientific books. In 2002, she was awarded NASA's distinguished Exceptional Achievement Medal.

Listeners: Alexander Ruzmaikin Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: aurora, science, sun, solar wind, magnetic field, earth’s field

Duration: 3 minutes, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2019

Date story went live: 05 November 2019