Director's Message

Portrait of Scott McIntosh observing the 2017 Total Eclipse
HAO Director, Scott McIntosh observing the Aug. 21, 2017 total eclipse (Wyoming)

It is with great pleasure that we present the 2018 Annual Report of the High Altitude Observatory (HAO), the solar-terrestrial physics laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR). Through its research, leadership, and service to the community, HAO strives toward a better understanding of the relentless interaction between the atmospheres of the Sun and the Earth.

This, like every year, has been one of ups and downs, highs and lows. A huge success of the year was the rapid rebuilding, testing, and reflight of the HIWIND stratospheric balloon during which all aspects of our team came together to produce a robust scientific platform. It will be exciting to see the science that comes from HIWIND and the novel, student-built, solar irradiance cubesat, RADIANCE, that piggy-backed on the gondola to study the effects of atmospheric absorption as the balloon floated across the globe.

The Geospace Frontiers section and related scientific working groups continue to make great strides with their implementation of WACCM-X. The model is growing in usership, the scientific publications are flowing, and we are progressing toward a Whole Geospace Community Model—a long-term goal set out in our strategic plan. In the coming year, the new observations provided by the NASA GOLD and ICON missions will provide an ideal basis for seeing how “top-down” and “bottom-up” forcings of space weather work—especially with sunspot activity at a minimum.

Activities in the Solar Frontiers section have focused on the construction of the ViSP experiment for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, the construction of the CoMP instrument upgrade, and ChroMag. These three experiments, which will be leaving the lab in the coming months, have the potential to revolutionize our understanding of the Sun and are integral to our strategy moving forward—building a strong balance of model and observation to understand the Sun’s ubiquitous magnetism and how it shapes the energetic interactions between the Sun and Earth. CoSMO, the Coronal and Solar Magnetism Observatory, appears to be gathering momentum at Agency level, and we’re hopeful to start aggressively pushing forward with the next-generation facility for the NSF Geospace community. In addition, teams have developed multiple miniaturized coronagraph designs and proposals around them for ground and space deployment. The data, modeling, and theoretical activities in the solar-physics related working groups have aligned strongly with these instrumentation activities.

By far the lowest point of the year came with the news of Michael J. Thompson’s passing in October. Michael was a greatly respected HAO Director and senior scientist. His scientific pedigree was admired across the globe. Michael was a calm and steady presence in NCAR’s senior leadership, and his work was held in high esteem by all who had the chance to work with him in that capacity. His family at HAO and NCAR miss him greatly. We will honor his scientific legacy with a dedicated meeting in 2019.

The Leadership efforts of many across the laboratory are greatly appreciatedwith particular acknowledgment that many of the efforts described herein would not have been possible without the tremendous effort put forth by our Administrative Team, Computer Systems Management Team, and others who steadfastly work in service of the laboratory, center, and stakeholders.

HAO has a broad group of stakeholders: the National Science Foundation (NSF) and other government agencies; the world-wide solar-terrestrial physics community (including the solar physics, heliospheric physics, magnetospheric physics, and upper-atmospheric physics communities); higher education facilities; the rest of NCAR and UCAR; our own staff, visitors, and students; and the wider public. In support of these stakeholders, HAO’s staff has set to work on a strategic plan that establishes a number of goals: to solve critical scientific problems in solar-terrestrial physics; gain a better understanding of space weather and space climate domains to improve attribution for forecast; deploy state-of-the-art observational facilities and scientific data services; develop and support advanced models of the Sun-Earth system; to support the education and training of early-career researchers; and to provide advocacy for solar-terrestrial physics, promoting its results and articulating its societal importance.

Our blended program of research, instrumentation, education, and mentorship emphasizes the necessary, and critical, balance between observation and modeling that is required to understand the origins of heliospheric magnetism, how it breaches the Sun’s atmosphere, pervades interplanetary space, and drives the magnetosphere and the upper atmosphere of the Earth. This report highlights the activities of our team over the past year and, while it is not intended to be comprehensive, it covers the spectrum of efforts that we pursue. We hope that you enjoy this report.