Sky is the limit for astronomy professor

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A former Lurgan resident has become the first woman to be awarded a major astronomical medal.

Professor Louise Harra, a former pupil of Lurgan College Prep, Banbridge Academy and QUB, moved to England 20 years ago to pursue her career.

As professor at the University College London’s Mullard Space Science Laboratory, Louise has been responsible for much excellent and far-reaching research in solar physics, especially in the exploitation of extreme-UV and X-ray spectroscopy and solar plasma diagnostics to understand the active solar atmosphere.

Though Louise now lives in West Sussex, her mother and father still live on the Banbridge Road in Lurgan.

Since September 2006, she has been Principal Investigator of the UK’s EUV Imaging Spectrometer on the Hinode satellite mission, and has taken a leading role in exploiting its observations.

This award is made primarily in recognition of her significant advances in using EUV spectroscopy to understand large-scale solar flows, dynamics and eruptions.

This includes the spectroscopic detection and characterisation of large-scale coronal waves, and outflows of hot plasma from the corona following coronal mass ejections.

Particularly notable is her identification of the likely source of the slow solar wind, opening a new channel for understanding its production.

She sets her discoveries in the context both of the emergence and evolution of solar magnetic fields, and of space weather. In doing so, she provides a rounded view of the dynamic links between the solar magnetic field and the heliosphere.

Professor Harra, who spent two years on placement in Japan, also looks to the bigger picture to discover how related research areas can be engaged, and collaborates widely.

Her leadership has assured prominent roles for the UK on forthcoming missions such as ESA’s Solar Orbiter. In recognition of her investigations of outstanding merit into flows in the corona and their relation to the solar magnetic field, Professor Harra is awarded the medal.

For these reasons, Professor Harra is awarded the Royal Astronomical Society’s Chapman Medal for 2014 - the first woman to win this honour.