Prof. John Brown, OBE (1947 – 2019)


Our colleague Prof. John Brown, OBE, was an outstanding, innovative scientist, a dedicated teacher and communicator, and a good friend and mentor to many of us in the Astronomy and Astrophysics Group. He was the 10th Astronomer Royal for Scotland and was formerly Regius Professor of Astronomy at the University of Glasgow. His scientific achievements and accolades form a long and distinguished list, and his pioneering research into solar and stellar physics, and solar flares in particular, set the direction for much of the group’s work today. Many will have known John through his extensive work in communicating his enthusiasm for astronomy and science to a wide audience. We remember his hospitality, and his joy in music, magic, and sharing a pint and a blether with friends.

We will miss him greatly and our thoughts are with his wife, children and grandchildren.

IRIS observation of the initiation of a solar flare suggests that turbulence helps to heat the Sun’s lower atmosphere.

In the Science Advances article, “The development of lower-atmosphere turbulence early in a solar flare” the first observational study of the onset and evolution of solar flare turbulence in the lower solar atmosphere on an unprecedented time scale of 1.7s using the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph is presented.


The work, performed by A&A group members Natasha JeffreyLyndsay Fletcher, Nicolas Labrosse and Paulo Simões, was published in Science Advances on the 5th December 2018. The flare (image below) occurred on the 6th December 2016.


The flare observations are consistent with turbulence in the lower solar atmosphere at the flare onset, heating that region as it dissipates. This challenges the current view of energy release and transport in the standard solar flare model, suggesting that turbulence partly heats the lower atmosphere.

Dr Motorina attends the Heliophysics Summer School 2018

The A&A group would like to congratulate Dr Galina Motorina (former A&A PhD) for earning a place at the Heliophysics Summer School 2018.

The Heliophysics Summer School was held in Boulder, Colorado, July 24 – 31, 2018 by the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research, CPAESS Programs. The school focuses on the physics of space weather events that start at the Sun and influence atmospheres, ionospheres and magnetospheres throughout the solar system. It is based on lectures, laboratories, and recitations from world experts. The school is perfectly suited for PhD students and first year postdocs.


Glasgow student participating in NASA’s Frontier Development Lab

Congratulations to Paul Wright (A&A Ph.D. student) for securing a place at NASA’s Frontier Development lab.

NASA’s Frontier Development Lab is an artificial intelligence (AI) research accelerator established by NASA and the SETI Institute to apply AI technologies to challenges in space exploration for the benefit of humankind.  It brings together a diverse set of researchers from AI and space sciences.


Paul is part of a team tackling the project “Predicting Solar Spectral Irradiance from SDO/AIA Observations”. Paul and the rest of the team will present their final results on August 16th at Intel and the event will be live streamed here.


PhD Prize to Dr. Peter Levens

Dr. Peter Levens
We’re delighted that the European Physics Society Solar Physics Division (EPS-SPD) chose to award its 2018 ESPD PhD Prize to Dr. Peter Levens “for significant contributions to the study of tornado-like prominences – using detailed ultraviolet spectroscopic, multi-wavelength imaging and visible spectropolarimetric observational analysis – helping to unveil the nature of these structures.”

Peter’s PhD work was under the supervision of Nic Labrosse and Lyndsay Fletcher. Peter also spent four months at the Observatoire de Paris in Meudon, working with Dr. Brigitte Schmieder.

Well done Peter!

Peter’s PhD thesis can be accessed on the University repository, as well as his published papers.

This is another EPS-SPD success for the Astronomy & Astrophysics group, which follows last year’s Early Career Prize awarded to Natasha Jeffrey.

Low-Frequency Radio data from Glasgow CALLISTO now included in the RHESSI Browser

Low-Frequency Radio data from the CALLISTO spectrometer located in Glasgow is now included in the quick look images accessed from the RHESSI Browser.

The Glasgow CALLISTO spectrometer detects radio emissions from the Sun between 45-80 MHz from 07:15 UT until 15:00 UT on a daily basis.  Quick look images are produced every 15 minutes during the hours of observation and are automatically updated onto the RHESSI Browser, where they can be accessed through the ‘Low-Frequency Radio’ option.

A&A Group welcomes Dr Galina Motorina

galinaDr Galina Motorina (Researcher from Pulkovo Observatory, Russia) will be visiting us for three weeks.

Her work is on the diagnostics of energy release in the solar corona using X-ray and EUV emissions (Support by the RSF grant No.16-12-10448).


Welcome Xingyao Chen

The triangle symbols indicate the centroids of the fundamental LOFAR source at the frequencies. The background image is SDO/AIA taken from Chen et al, ApJ 2018

Xingyao Chen (National Astronomical Observatories Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing) will be visiting us as a PhD scholar for 12 months.

She will be work with the solar radio data from LOFAR and to study the energetic particles responsible for the solar radio emission in solar flares.

Her recent paper on Fine Structures of Solar Radio Type III Bursts has just been published in the Astrophysical Journal in March 2018:…856…73C

Giant solar tornadoes put researchers in a spin

European Week of Astronomy and Space Science press release
RAS PR 18/20 (EWASS 16)

Despite their appearance solar tornadoes are not rotating after all, according to a European team of scientists. A new analysis of these gigantic structures, each one several times the size of the Earth, indicates that they may have been misnamed because scientists have so far only been able to observe them using 2-dimensional images. Dr Nicolas Labrosse will present the work, carried out by researchers at the University of Glasgow, Paris Observatory, University of Toulouse, and Czech Academy of Sciences, at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS) in Liverpool on Friday 6 April.

Solar tornadoes were first observed in the early 20th century, and the term was re-popularised a few years ago when scientists looked at movies obtained by the AIA instrument on the NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO). These show hot plasma in extreme ultraviolet light apparently rotating to form a giant structure taking the shape of a tornado (as we know them on Earth).

Now, using the Doppler effect to add a third dimension to their data, the scientists have been able to measure the speed of the moving plasma, as well as its direction, temperature and density. Using several years’ worth of observations, they were able to build up a more complete picture of the magnetic field structure that supports the plasma, in structures known as prominences.

Dr Nicolas Labrosse, lead scientist in the study, explains: “We found that despite how prominences and tornadoes appear in images, the magnetic field is not vertical, and the plasma mostly moves horizontally along magnetic field lines. However we see tornado-like shapes in the images because of projection effects, where the line of sight information is compressed onto the plane of the sky.”

Dr Arturo López Ariste, another member of the team, adds: “The overall effect is similar to the trail of an aeroplane in our skies: the aeroplane travels horizontally at a fixed height, but we see that the trail starts above our heads and ends up on the horizon. This doesn’t mean that it has crashed!”

Giant solar tornadoes – formally called tornado prominences – have been observed on the Sun for around a hundred years. They are so called because of their striking shape and apparent resemblance to tornadoes on Earth, but that is where the comparison ends.

Whereas terrestrial tornadoes are formed from intense winds and are very mobile, solar tornadoes are instead magnetized gas. They seem to be rooted somewhere further down the solar surface, and so stay fixed in place.

“They are associated with the legs of solar prominences – these are beautiful concentrations of cool plasma in the very hot solar corona that can easily be seen as pink structures during total solar eclipses,” adds Labrosse.

“Perhaps for once the reality is less complicated than what we see!” comments Dr Brigitte Schmieder, another scientist involved in the work.

She continues: “Solar tornadoes sound scary but in fact they normally have no noticeable consequences for us. However, when a tornado prominence erupts, it can cause what’s known as space weather, potentially damaging power, satellite and communication networks on Earth.”

Media contacts

Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)7802 877 699

Ms Anita Heward
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)7756 034 243

Dr Morgan Hollis
Royal Astronomical Society
Mob: +44 (0)7802 877 700

Dr Helen Klus
Royal Astronomical Society

Ms Marieke Baan
European Astronomical Society

Science contacts

Dr Nicolas Labrosse
School of Physics and Astronomy
University of Glasgow
Mob: +44 (0)7983 380 380

Dr Brigitte Schmieder
Observatoire de Paris
Université Paris-Diderot
Tel : +33 (0)1 4507 7817

Dr Arturo López Ariste
Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie
Université de Toulouse
Tel : +33 (0)5 6133 4716

Animation and caption

A solar tornado observed by the NASA satellite SDO between 23 April and 29 April 2015. The tornado prominence erupted on 28 April. An image of the Earth is superimposed for scale.
Credit: SDO data courtesy of NASA. Movie created using the ESA and NASA funded Helioviewer Project.

Images and captions
Composite image of the prominence observed on 15 July 2014 showing, after co-alignment: the EIS raster in green, the IRIS slit-jaw image in red, and an SOT image in blue. The white contours show the THEMIS D3 intensity image and indicate where the tornadoes are observed in extreme ultraviolet. The background image is an AIA 304 angstrom image (greyscale).
Credit: P. Levens
Composite image of an erupting solar prominence observed by SDO on 31 August 2012.
Credit: NASA / SDO / GSFC

Further information

The presentation slides are available here.

Dr Nicolas Labrosse will be giving an outreach talk on this topic at the Merseyside Astronomy Day (MAD) on Saturday 7 April. Full details can be found at:

The full team consists of:

Dr Nicolas Labrosse, SUPA, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Glasgow, UK
Dr Peter Levens, SUPA, School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Glasgow, UK
Dr Arturo López Ariste, Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie, Université de Toulouse, CNRS, CNES, France
Dr Brigitte Schmieder, LESIA, Observatoire de Paris, PSL Research University, CNRS, Sorbonne Universités, UPMC Univ. Paris 06, Univ. Paris-Diderot, Sorbonne Paris Cité, Meudon, France
Dr Maciej Zapiór, Astronomical Institute, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic, Ondřejov, Czech Republic

Details of the techniques used to obtain these results can be found in the following publications:

B. Schmieder, M. Zapior, A. Lopez Ariste, P. Levens, N. Labrosse, R. Gravet, “Reconstruction of a helical prominence in 3D from IRIS spectra and images”; A&A, 606, A30 (2017)
B. Schmieder, P. Mein, N. Mein, P. Levens, A. Lopez Ariste, N. Labrosse, L. Ofman, “H alpha Doppler shifts in a tornado in the solar corona”; A&A, 597, 109 (2017)
P. Levens, B. Schmieder, N. Labrosse, A. Lopez Ariste, “Structure of prominence legs: plasma and magnetic fields”; ApJ, 818, 31 (2016)
P. Levens, B. Schmieder, A. Lopez Ariste, N. Labrosse, K. Dalmasse, B. Gelly, “Magnetic field in atypical prominences: Bubble, tornado and eruption”; ApJ, 826, 164 (2016)
P. Levens, N. Labrosse, B. Schmieder, A. Lopez Ariste, L. Fletcher, “Comparison between UV/EUV line parameters and magnetic field parameters in a quiescent prominence with tornadoes”; A&A, 607, A16 (2017)

Notes for editors

The European Week of Astronomy and Space Science (EWASS 2018) will take place at the Arena and Conference Centre (ACC) in Liverpool from 3 – 6 April 2018. Bringing together around 1500 astronomers and space scientists, the conference is the largest professional astronomy and space science event in the UK for a decade and will see leading researchers from around the world presenting their latest work.

EWASS 2018 is a joint meeting of the European Astronomical Society and the Royal Astronomical Society. It incorporates the RAS National Astronomy Meeting (NAM), and includes the annual meeting of the UK Solar Physics (UKSP) group. The conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) and Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU).

Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) is one of the largest, most dynamic and forward-thinking universities in the UK, with a vibrant community of 25,000 students from over 100 countries world-wide, 2,500 staff and 250 degree courses. LJMU celebrated its 25th anniversary of becoming a university in 2017 and has launched a new five-year vision built around four key ‘pillars’ to deliver excellence in education; impactful research and scholarship; enhanced civic and global engagement; and an outstanding student experience.

The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), founded in 1820, encourages and promotes the study of astronomy, solar-system science, geophysics and closely related branches of science. The RAS organizes scientific meetings, publishes international research and review journals, recognizes outstanding achievements by the award of medals and prizes, maintains an extensive library, supports education through grants and outreach activities and represents UK astronomy nationally and internationally. Its more than 4000 members (Fellows), a third based overseas, include scientific researchers in universities, observatories and laboratories as well as historians of astronomy and others.

The RAS accepts papers for its journals based on the principle of peer review, in which fellow experts on the editorial boards accept the paper as worth considering. The Society issues press releases based on a similar principle, but the organisations and scientists concerned have overall responsibility for their content.

Follow the RAS on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

The European Astronomical Society (EAS) promotes and advances astronomy in Europe. As an independent body, the EAS is able to act on matters that need to be handled at a European level on behalf of the European astronomical community. In its endeavours the EAS collaborates with affiliated national astronomical societies and also with pan-European research organisations and networks. Founded in 1990, the EAS is a society of individual members. All astronomers may join the society, irrespective of their field of research, or their country of work or origin. In addition, corporations, publishers and non-profit organisations can become organizational members of the EAS. The EAS, together with one of its affiliated societies, organises the annual European Week of Astronomy & Space Science (formerly known as JENAM) to enhance its links with national communities, to broaden connections between individual members and to promote European networks.

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) is keeping the UK at the forefront of international science and has a broad science portfolio and works with the academic and industrial communities to share its expertise in materials science, space and ground-based astronomy technologies, laser science, microelectronics, wafer scale manufacturing, particle and nuclear physics, alternative energy production, radio communications and radar.
STFC’s Astronomy and Space Science programme provides support for a wide range of facilities, research groups and individuals in order to investigate some of the highest priority questions in astrophysics, cosmology and solar system science. STFC’s astronomy and space science programme is delivered through grant funding for research activities, and also through support of technical activities at STFC’s UK Astronomy Technology Centre and RAL Space at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. STFC also supports UK astronomy through the international European Southern Observatory.

Follow STFC on Twitter

STFC is part of UK Research and Innovation

Congratulations to Dr Alcock

Ben Alcock with thesis entitled “Solar Electron and Radio Wave Propagation in the Turbulent Solar Corona” successfully passed his viva on Thursday March 22.
A part part of the thesis was published and another part is in preparation for publication.

Dr. Ryan Milligan stars in his own space TV show

BBC Space Trucker

A&A’s Dr. Ryan Milligan stars in his own TV show this week, all about two of his passions – astronomy and trucks.

The programme follows Ryan driving a truck, hauling the supercomputer for the radio telescope i-LOFAR from the Netherlands to Birr in Ireland.

It was broadcast on BBC Northern Ireland on Monday 4th December, and you can catchup with our very own EIS Road Trucker on iPlayer.

Award from China arrived to Hamish Reid and Heather Ratcliffe

The mini-volume published in RAA journal presented research papers based on talks at the 1st RadioSun workshop in China. The RadioSun network links research teams from China, Czech Republic, Poland, Russia and the UK. The paper by Hamish Reid and Heather Ratcliffe won a RAA Excellent Paper award.


Congratulations to Dr Motorina

Some of the Glasgow solar PhD students (Paul Wright, Stephen Brown, Galina Motorina) broadcasting live with STV's Sean Batty during the eclipse

Some of the Glasgow solar PhD students (Paul Wright, Stephen Brown, Galina Motorina) broadcasting live with STV’s Sean Batty during the eclipse

Galina Motorina was awarded a PhD degree for her work entitled “Dynamics of plasma heating and energy distributions of accelerated electrons during solar flares based on X-ray and ultraviolet emission“.  Galina was a visiting PhD student in Astronomy & Astrophysics group for a number of months and worked on thermal properties of solar flares and differential emission measure reconstruction from RHESSI and SDO observations.

Nicolina Chrysaphi made intriguing solar observations operating UK LOFAR


Right: Nicolina operates The Rawlings Array (UK LOFAR), Left: Observations of the solar radio bursts in sidelobes while pointing array to TauA.

Nicolina Chrysaphi have successfully captured a number of solar radio bursts using the Rawling Array (aka UK-LOFAR). The preliminary quick-look images show the variety of fascinating solar phenomena.

Visiting Professor Gordon Emslie explains to Physics Central the role of turbulence in solar flares

Cartoon created by Dr Jeffrey

Cartoon created by Dr Jeffrey

In the PhysicsCentral article, “Small-Scale Turbulence May Help Power Solar Explosions” the complex physics about role of turbulence in solar flares is explained using simple terms. The Glasgow-led research team spread over 13 time zones represents six languages, five solar instruments, and various areas of expertise on the Sun’s activity.

With PhysicsCentral, the American Physical Society communicates the excitement and importance of physics to everyone.

European Solar Physics Meeting highlights group research

First IR flare observed at 8 microns, showing two IR sources near a sunspot.

First IR flare observed at 8 microns, showing two IR sources near a sunspot.

Research led by Dr. Paulo Simoes has been featured as a research highlight in a  press release from the 15th European Solar Physics meeting, held recently in Hungary. Paulo’s work uses numerical simulations to predict the behaviour of chromospheric flare emission in the infrared continuum, and understand how it can be used to track the evolution of chromospheric ionisation. Armed with this new knowledge, new observations with the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope will be proposed.

Dr. Eduard Kontar is elected as ESPD president

We congratulate A&A’s Dr. Eduard Kontar. He was elected president of the European Solar Physics Division (ESPD) of the European Physical Society (EPS) during the elections at the European Solar Physics Meeting (ESPM) in Budapest last week.

Dr. Eduard Kontar is also currently president of CESRA (Community of European Solar Radio Astronomers).

Well done from the group!

The ESPD is a division of the European Physical Society that represents and provides a forum for scientists interested in the physics of the Sun.

Eduard Kontar

Poster prize for Paul Wright

Paul Wright (right) receiving the 2017 AAS Solar Physics Division Student Poster Prize at the 48th AAS/SPD meeting in Portland, OR.

Paul Wright (right) receiving the 2017 AAS Solar Physics Division Student Poster Prize at the 48th AAS/SPD meeting in Portland, OR.

We’re delighted that Paul Wright has been awarded the 2017 American Astronomical Society Solar Physics Division Student Poster Prize at the 48th AAS/SPD meeting in Portland, OR. His poster was on “Microflare Heating of an Active Region Observed with NuSTAR, Hinode/XRT, and SDO/AIA”, and was based on a paper published in the Astrophysical Journal (including Glasgow co-authors Iain Hannah and Hugh Hudson).

Congratulations Paul!

Paul (and Stephen Brown) received an SPD Studentship to attend the meeting.

Early Career Prize to Dr. Natasha Jeffrey

We’re delighted that the EPS Solar Physics Division chose to award its first-ever 2017 ESPD Early Career Prize to Dr. Natasha Jeffrey “for significant contributions to the physics of solar flares and for inspiring outreach activities”.

Well done Natasha!

The 2017 ESPD Prizes will be presented in the course of the 15th European Solar Physics Meeting, during an award ceremony specifically designed for this event.

Blue Plaque for Prof. Alexander Wilson

An Institute of Physics Blue Plaque was unveiled on Tuesday 28th March 2017 for Professor Alexander Wilson MD FRSE, the first Regius Chair of Astronomy at Glasgow (1760 -1784).

The ceremony was attended by the Astronomer for Scotland, Professor John C Brown OBE FRSE, University Principal and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Anton Muscatelli, former Reader and Director of University’s observatory, Dr. David Clarke FInstP as well as a descendant of Wilson, James Babington Smith. The event also saw presentations and display of material for the University’s Hunterian museum and National Museums of Scotland. The blue plaque will be permanently mounted at the entrance of the University’s observatory at Acre Rd.

BBC News coverage of the unveiling.

17 - 083 Alexander Wilson Blue Plaque 004

17 - 083 Alexander Wilson Blue Plaque 006

17 - 083 Alexander Wilson Blue Plaque 007

17 - 083 Alexander Wilson Blue Plaque 002

17 - 083 Alexander Wilson Blue Plaque 018

Congrats to Prof. Lyndsay Fletcher FRSE

Congratulations to A&A group’s Professor Lyndsay Fletcher who has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

RSE Press Release.

Congratulations to Graham Kerr and Duncan Stackhouse!

Graham Kerr with thesis “Observations and Modelling of the Chromosphere During Solar Flares” and Duncan Stackhouse with thesis “The Acceleration and Transport of Electron Populations in Solar Flares” successfully passed their vivas.

Alliance Meeting on energetic particles, December 7-8, 2016

Alliance Meeting on energetic particles in solar flares  [webpage] , contact Nic Bian regarding the meeting.

CESRA website moves from Paris to Glasgow

Glasgow now hosts the CESRA (Community of European Solar Radio Astronomers) website thanks to Kenzie Nimmo and Norman Gray. The recent solar radio (and other) science highlights can be followed, discussed and shared on Twitter and Facebook.

Congrats to Prof John Brown OBE

John BrownCongratulations to the A&A group’s Professor John Brown (former Regius Professor of Astronomy and currently Astronomer Royal for Scotland) who has been awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List “for services to the promotion of astronomy and science education”.