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event • Fellows' Presentation

Understanding Our Heliospheric Shield: Laying the Groundwork to Predict Habitable Astrospheres

Portrait of Merav Opher
Photo courtesy of Merav Opher

A presentation from 2021–2022 William Bentinck-Smith Fellow Merav Opher

Merav Opher, a professor in the Department of Astronomy at Boston University, is interested in understanding the cocoons around stars, called astrospheres and generated by the stellar winds as they move through the interstellar medium that surrounds them. Her research is focused in particular on understanding the heliosphere, the cocoon around the solar system, and lays the groundwork to predict habitable astrospheres.

During her Radcliffe year, Opher is tackling some of the most critical aspects at the center of heliospheric research: What is the shape of the heliosphere—is it comet-like with a long-tail, as described in the classic view, or is it a croissant-like shape, as Opher’s recent work advocates? And what is the physical mechanism driving the shape? Pinning down the shape of the heliosphere is the first step to understanding the shielding properties of the heliosphere. The results from this fellowship will lay the groundwork for the broader astronomical community to apply the understanding of the only known habitable astrosphere to other stars. The findings will also enable scientists to predict which other stellar systems have the potential to harbor habitable Earth-like planets.

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