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Space Scientist Receives Unusual Grant

UCR Space Scientist Receives Unusual Grant from the Department of Energy

Nikolai Pogorelov’s research into the outer heliosphere will help plan future space missions

(January 25, 2008)

Nikolai V. Pogorelov is a research scientist at UCR's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics.  Image credit: UCR Strategic Communications.Enlarge

Nikolai V. Pogorelov is a research scientist at UCR's Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics. Image credit: UCR Strategic Communications.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — A UC Riverside research scientist has received an unusual grant from the Department of Energy. There is no dollar value to the grant. Instead, Nikolai V. Pogorelov has been awarded 850,000 processor hours on the seventh fastest computer in the world, located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Tenn.

Pogorelov’s research project was one of only 17 projects from universities nationwide supported by the Department of Energy this year.

Pogorelov, who joined UCR’s Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics (IGPP) in 2003, will use the processor hours allocated to him to do research that could help in the planning of manned space missions to other planets.

Along with co-investigator Jacob Heerikhuisen, also an IGPP research scientist, Pogorelov will model physical processes in the heliosphere that occur when the solar wind interacts with the interstellar medium.

The heliosphere is the area in space that encompasses the solar system, the solar wind and the solar magnetic field. The solar wind is comprised of charged particles that spew out of the sun in all directions and acquire supersonic speed. The interstellar medium refers to the gas and dust in the space between stars.

In their research, Pogorelov and Heerikhuisen will focus on a host of scientific topics, including the effects of the 11-year period of solar activity on the interaction between the solar wind and the interstellar medium; and the effect on this interaction of non-thermal ions, called “pick-up ions,” that originate in the solar wind when interstellar neutral particles exchange charge with solar ions. The researchers will use sophisticated methods to resolve features such as the heliospheric current sheet (a warped surface within the solar system where the sun’s magnetic field changes polarity from north to south), fluxes of energetic neutral atoms, and various transient phenomena.

“We will use a unique computer program developed at IGPP, called Multi-Scale Fluid-Kinetic Simulation Suite, to determine the distribution of plasma and magnetic fields in the three-dimensional heliosphere, starting from the Earth’s orbit out to the boundary of the solar system,” said Pogorelov, the principal investigator of the one-year grant. “We will then compare our calculations with observations from some of NASA’s spacecraft fleet.”

The researchers expect their results will be useful for analyzing fluxes of galactic cosmic rays (high-energy charged particles that enter the solar system from the outside) and solar wind conditions in the heliosphere — both of which are important for planning space missions to other planets in our solar system.

They also expect their research results will assist the Interstellar Boundary Explorer (IBEX) mission, a space mission that aims to study the interstellar boundary, the region between the solar system and interstellar space. According to them, their results are expected also to help explain measurements currently being made by Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. Both spacecraft have crossed the termination shock, the spherical shell around the solar system that marks where the solar wind slows down to subsonic speed.

The allocations of supercomputing and data storage resources to Pogorelov are being made under the Department of Energy’s Innovative and Novel Computational Impact on Theory and Experiment (INCITE) program, which supports computationally intensive, large-scale research projects.

“The Department of Energy’s Office of Science has two of the top ten most powerful supercomputers, and using them through the INCITE program is having a transformational effect on America’s scientific and economic competitiveness,” said Raymond L. Orbach, the Department of Energy’s Under Secretary for Science and a former chancellor of UCR. “Once considered the domain of only small groups of researchers, supercomputers today are tools for discovery, driving scientific advancement across a wide range of disciplines. We're proud to provide these resources to help researchers advance scientific knowledge and understanding and thereby to provide insight into major scientific and industrial issues.”

The Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at UCR is a multi-campus research unit whose mission is to promote basic research in the structure, origin, and evolution of the universe including the solar system and its planets. Its objectives are to encourage, foster and support basic research in astrophysics, planetary physics and geophysics; to foster research and collaboration between the UC campuses, national laboratories, and across colleges and departments at UCR; and to contribute to graduate education in cooperation with other units in the University of California.

The University of California, Riverside ( 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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