News

SIfA student's research attracts worldwide media attention


29 October 2015

SIfA Honours student Cleo Loi has demonstrated the power of astronomy to engage the interest of the public. A powerful 'underdog' story and engaging visuals have captured the imagination of people worldwide.

After discovering unusual bands in observations of the ionosphere, Cleo worked to test and rule out the various explanations from her more senior collaborators. Her key insight was realising that the bands followed the Earth's magnetic field lines. Geophysicists from the University of Newcastle suggested that they might be caused by 'whistler ducts', predicted but previously unobserved structures in the ionosphere. By using the Murchison Widefield Array, Cleo imaged these plasma tubes for the first time, finding that they were 600km above the Earth's surface, matching the geophysicists' predictions.

The story instantly captured the public imagination. A video created to accompany a press release reached over 1 million views on Youtube within six weeks, and associated stories received over 400000 views on Fairfax websites and 173000 on news.com.au. The story also attracted more than 130000 likes on Facebook.

For more information, see Dr Tara Murphy's article in The Conversation and an article from CAASTRO, which worked in conjunction with the University of Sydney to publicise the work.