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Peter Gallagher - solar guides


Hi, my name's Peter Gallagher:


Image of Peter GallagherWhere are you working?
I work at Trinity College Dublin. I used to work at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, USA and the Big Bear Solar Observatory in sunny California. That observatory is actually situated in the middle of a lake at 2067 meters above sea level in the mountains. Big Bear Lake is also a great place to go boating or fishing, but I like the jet-skis best although I must say I'm not very good at staying on them. In winter it gets tons of snow, which makes it a great place for skiing and snowboarding.

Image of the Big Bear Solar Observatory
Image of the Big Bear Solar Observatory

Image of a brown bearBig Bear Solar Observatory


How did you get interested in science?
I'm Irish and went to school in Dublin. Apart from making excruciating noises with my electric guitar when I was supposed to be doing my homework, I spent a lot of time playing Gaelic football and Rugby. Gaelic football is an extremely fast, physical game. As a teen, I was also extremely interested in taken things apart and got in trouble on several occasions for completely disassembling our TV on the living room floor! I was crazy about science and converted my bedroom into laboratory.


Which university did you go to?
I studied physics at University College Dublin. That was a great place to study and an even better place to party! I started working on solar physics at the Queen's University of Belfast. I worked closely with the SOHO team at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire. I also spent four months in the Canary Islands - tough life! An interesting fact - did you know that the largest telescope in the world before 1912 was build in the town of Birr, Co. Offaly by the Third Earl of Rosse. His 72-inch reflecting telescope was completed in 1840s and was the largest telescope before the 100 inch at Mount Wilson, California.


Image of reconstructed telescope at Birr CastleHere is a reconstruction of the telescope at Birr Castle.


What do you work on?

I've been using SOHO observations to study the solar atmosphere. The best part of my work was helping to build an eclipse experiment, which our team took to the Caribbean to observe the 1998 eclipse. For the 1999 eclipse, we went to Bulgaria. That's one great thing about being an astronomer, you get to travel all over the world as part of your job! Recently, I've been working on space weather. I have to check out the Sun each morning to see if there are any sunspots that might explode, produce solar flares and throw hot gas towards the Earth. Sometimes these solar flares can knock out electricity supplies and communication links on Earth.


Image of Peter and collegues at an eclipse expeditionThis is one of our eclipse expeditions. I'm the one third from the right with the cap on.


Image of Jimi HedrixWhat do you like doing in your spare time?
Most of all, I love going out with mates to restaurants and clubs at weekends. I also enjoy anything I can get hurt doing such as parachute jumping, jet-skiing and snow-boarding. At the moment I can only jump from 3,500 feet, but will hopefully qualify to do free-falls soon. That means I'll be jumping from nearly 10,000 feet!


I also play electric guitar and am a great fan of thrash metal and punk bands such as Metallica, Fugazi and Dead Kennedies. I wish I'd been able to meet Jimmy Hendrix.


Image of Peter skydiving
Image of Peter skydiving

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