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Nick Watkins - solar guides


Hi, my name's Nick Watkins:


Image of Nick WatkinsWhere do you work?
I work at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), in Cambridge, England. I study magnetic storms in the Earth's atmosphere. Charged particles spiral down into the Earth's atmosphere at the poles and cause beautiful effects like the aurora. This makes the Antarctic a particularly good place from which to study the magnetosphere.


Image of a research centre in the Antarctic with an aurora visible overhead




How did you get interested in science?
I grew up in Dibden Purlieu, no not in France, but in England near Southampton! When I was 6 years old, the Apollo 8 crew made their flight around the Moon. That got me hooked on space science. Later, I was on holiday with my parents in North Wales, on a farm. I distinctly remember going into a little town at one point and looking in the windows of television shops to try and catch the landing of the Soyuz spaceship that carried the Soviet crew of the first ever international manned space mission. I had a real space bug even then, and remember going to my gran's to watch the launch on her TV! My childhood can best be described by Arthur C. Clarke's collection of books called 'By Space Possessed'.

Image of the Apollo 8 crew badge
Image of the Apollo 8 crew: Borman, Lovell, Anders

Image of the Earth from the MoonHow did you end up at BAS?
I studied physics at University College London (UCL). Afterwards, I went to Sussex University in sunny Brighton, which I really enjoyed. Then I worked at the Space Science Centre at Sussex, building instruments to be flown in space. I managed to go to a launch in the USA. One of the instruments, which I had worked on, was on each of the 4 Cluster satellites. I remember watching the Cluster launch in 1996 on TV, with my colleagues at Warwick University. It was a spectacular disaster when the first Ariane 5 rocket failed and exploded - taking my job, and many other folks jobs with it! In some ways, I guess that the disaster turned into a major opportunity for me, because I then joined BAS, which is a great place to work.

Image of the Ariane 5 rocket launch
Image of the Ariane 5 rocket exploding just after launch

Did you see the second launch of Cluster?
Yes, it was very nostalgic for me to watch the first pair of Cluster satellites counted down on a Soyuz rocket just like the one I'd watched at my gran's a quarter of a century before, this time successfully!

Image of the Soyuz rocket launch
Image of a cluster of satellites

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