RNASA Honors Russ Howard with Stellar Award

3/31/2001 - 13-01r
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Dr. Russell Howard, head of the Solar Physics Branch of the Naval Research Laboratory's Space Science Division, is the recipient of a Stellar Award from the Rotary National Award for Space Achievement (RNASA) Foundation. Stellar Awards recognize outstanding individuals and teams from industry and government whose accomplishments hold the greatest promise for furthering future activities in space. Dr. Howard was presented the award in early March at a ceremony in Houston, Texas.

Dr. Howard, whose principal area of science is coronal imagery and solar-terrestrial relations, was recognized for:
contributions to imaging of the solar corona and demonstrating the relationship of coronal mass ejections (CMEs) to geomagnetic storms. Dr. Howard has spent more than three decades in this discipline and has contributed to almost every significant advance in both hardware and observations.His leadership of the LASCO program has led directly to the current capability for predicting geomagnetic storms with 2-3 days warning.

Dr. Herbert Gursky, head of NRL's Space Science Division, notes that since the 1930s, when instruments were developed for artificially creating solar eclipses, ground-based observations of the corona have become a standard tool of the solar physics community. Imagery of the solar corona was one of the early objectives of space researchers since the darkness of the space sky affords a far better view of the corona. Dr. Howard, says Gursky, has been one of the leaders in achieving that promise, having been involved with every NRL space coronagraph, except for those flown on early sounding rockets.

After joining NRL in 1969 as an NRC post-doctoral fellow, Dr. Howard first worked on the OSO-7 coronagraphs developed by Richard Tousey, then on the SOLWIND coronagraphs for the P78-1 mission flown by DoD. As part of his work on the SOLWIND coronagraphs, Dr. Howard, for the first time, described the characteristics of earthward directed CMEs and their subsequent geomagnetic activity. He demonstrated that the emergence of CMEs at the sun could be used as a predictor of geomagnetic activity. Dr. Howard and his colleagues accumulated and published a massive database of CMEs that has been the principal source of information about them until the emergence of NRL's Large Area Solar Coronagraph (LASCO) data.

Dr. Howard started on LASCO as the project scientist and since 1998 has been the principal investigator for the program. LASCO, flown as part of the billion dollar NASA/ESA Solar and Heliographic Observatory (SOHO), is a $75M instrument that involved the design, construction and integration of three separate coronagraphs developed by NRL and its European partners. In spite of its sophistication and complexity, and the need to integrate the work of five different institutions, the instrument was delivered on time and within cost. It has operated flawlessly since its launch in 1995.

Aside from his work as the project scientist, Dr. Howard was responsible for the development of the charged-coupled-device (CCD) cameras used in each of the coronagraph focal planes. The data from LASCO have had an enormous impact on solar physics. The spectacular images are made possible by the quality of the CCD cameras and the wide field of view of the instrument (30 times the radius of the sun). The images routinely make the national news and have been the subject of an IMAX production (SolarMax). Geomagnetic storms directed at the Earth are now being routinely predicted with 2-3 days advance warning by NOAA's Solar Environmental Laboratory in Boulder based on the use of LASCO imagery. Real-time images of the solar corona as seen be LASCO are available on the web at http://lasco-www.nrl.navy.mil.

Dr. Howard is currently the principal investigator for the Sun Earth Connection Coronal and Heliospheric Investigation (SECCHI) program that is part of NASA's STEREO mission. SECCHI is multi-national effort to provide images of the solar environment from the surface of the Sun all the way to Earth. Two spacecraft with identical instrumentation will gradually drift away from Earth, one ahead and the other behind, in orbits about the Sun. Stereoscopic images of coronal mass ejections will be obtained from these two positions, greatly improving the ability to predict geomagnetic storms and yielding better scientific information regarding these and other coronal structures. SECCHI is enormously challenging, building on the success of LASCO, combining both instrumentation and modeling efforts to provide a much better understanding of the relationship between solar activity and the subsequent terrestrial response.

Dr. Howard graduated from the University of Maryland, receiving his PhD in chemical physics in 1969. Dr. Howard has published more than 100 papers in the area of solar physics.

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