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Space Scientists Gather in Riverside


Discussion at UC Riverside Planetary Physics Conference Will Include Debate About Voyager 1

Third Annual Conference Will Draw Noted Space Scientists from Around the World

(January 27, 2004)

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) -- Some of the finest space scientists in the world will converge in downtown Riverside Sunday, Feb. 8 through Friday, Feb. 13, to discuss — among other things — whether or not the Voyager 1 spacecraft recently crossed from our solar system into interstellar space.

The debate -- if all goes well -- will be raucous, or as raucous as it gets at the third annual Astrophysics Conference hosted by the Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics of the University of California, Riverside. This year’s conference, to be held at the historic Mission Inn, is titled “Physics of the Outer Heliosphere.”

Among several hot-button topics is whether Voyager 1 indeed reached the so-called “termination shock” boundary in November, arriving at the faraway place where the solar wind extinguishes and the interstellar medium appears, the place where gases float between stars. During the past two months, respected scientists have argued about whether Voyager 1 has yet reached that point, or is simply very close.

“This is one of the issues that has been very hotly debated,” said UCR professor of physics and IGPP-UCR director Gary P. Zank, who organizes the conference each year. “There has been a set of observations suggesting we met this milestone. As Voyager is the furthest man-made craft from the sun, this would represent mankind’s first fledgling steps out of the cocoon. We’re talking about twice as far as Pluto from the sun.”

And if you believe Voyager 1 has been overshadowed by rovers on Mars, know that Voyager 1 is the only craft zooming through space eager and willing to encounter extraterrestrials. If it does, these creatures will be greeted with a recorded message from former President Jimmy Carter, who was in office when Voyager 1 was launched in 1977.

The five-day conference gathers some of the most creative space scientists in the world, who will also discuss such topics as the hydrogen wall, a recently discovered heliospheric structure involving the interaction of the solar wind with the local interstellar medium. Zank was part of a group that predicted the existence of the hydrogen wall several years ago, a prediction later confirmed.

“We’ll be discussing all sorts of theories,” Zank said. “We’ll have a principal scientist from Voyager, a chief scientist at NASA, members of the National Academy of Science and scientists from Russia, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, Poland, the U.K., Greece, Italy, South Africa and every continent you can imagine.”

The opening talk will be delivered by Sir Ian Axford, director emeritus of the Max Planck Institute in Germany, and one of the world’s leading astrophysicists.
“We have the top people in the field attending what has become a staple of space science conferences,” Zank said.

The gathering will again allow Zank and colleagues to show off the growth of the IGPP, a multi-campus research institute focusing on space physics and astrophysics, and earthquake and computational geophysics.

“During the past three years, the institute has grown tremendously,” Zank said. “One way to assess that growth is to measure the amount of external funding we receive. That funding grew 195 percent during the first year, and in two years increased by 230 percent. The size of the institute has quadrupled, with some of the top physical astrophysicists in the world now participating.”

Zank has also long been a respected researcher in the field, a frequent author and co-author of well-regarded papers and a trusted media source. His research interests are broad, ranging from space physics to astrophysics to laboratory plasma physics and some mathematical biology.

Conference registration is $300, and hobbyists and followers of the subjects to be discussed are welcome to attend. Accredited journalists may attend sessions for free, although meals would not be included. The Mission Inn, 3649 Mission Inn Ave., offers shuttle service to and from Ontario Airport. The phone number for reservations is (800) 843-7755.



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The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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