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 coccon 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.
Opher, who earned a PhD in astrophysics from Universidade de São Paolo, has received numerous honors, among them a 2007 Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers and a 2008 Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award. She recently became the principal investigator of the SHIELD DRIVE Science Center, a NASA-funded center with more than 40 leading scientists across a dozen institutions.