|Posted on Mar 31, 2011 05:45:22 PM | Gerald Steeman | 0 Comments ||
In January, Lynn Heimerl blogged about the unsung work of NASA’s Joel Levine. This month, we sing up the praises of another NASA career, that of Neil Gehrels.
Gehrels started at Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) right out of graduate school in 1981 and has stayed on ever since. “I was hooked right away by all the opportunities here,” says Gehrels. “The early work [I did] was on detector development and studies of supernovae, which are exploding stars.” This work led to mission development and studies of gamma-ray bursts. These are even larger cosmic explosions. “I've always been fascinated with things that go bang!”
The NASA STI Program recently produced a poster highlighting Gehrels work the Swift Explorer mission (right). The mission was proposed in 1998 and was subsequently one of two selected from a field of forty. “Building the satellite was a huge challenge,” says Gehrels, “but it was a wonderful time bringing all the pieces together and then launching the mission.” Gehrels led the team that developed the mission and now oversees the operations and science team. Although, his hands are full right now with the science endeavor of Swift, Gehrels continues to pursue developing instrumentation to observe the most distant objects in the universe.
Gehrels points to two special papers among the hundreds of publications carrying his name The first is "Temperatures of Enhanced Stability in Hot Thin Plasmas" published in Astrophysical Journal Letters. “I wrote a paper with my wife, who is a physicist at University of Maryland. It is not highly referenced, but has some nice, elegant results,” says Gehrels.
The most recognized paper, "A short γ-ray burst apparently associated with an elliptical galaxy at redshift z = 0.225" published in Nature, is one in which Gehrels’ team used Swift data to figure out that short-duration gamma-ray bursts are caused by mergers of binary neutron stars. “That was an exciting discovery,” he says.
Communicating science results for Gehrels does not stop with publishing. “Public presentations are the ultimate thrill,” says Gehrels. “People are really interested in NASA and space astronomy. Sometimes the questions that come up at a public talk or school open up a new way of looking at a problem.”
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Tags : Authors, Communication, General