Jerry Goldstein, 35
He showed why Earth´s natural plasma shield isn´t as stable as we hoped
As a student at Brooklyn College, the only "B" Jerry Goldstein received was in a physics class, so he did what no other right-thinking college student would: He decided to go into physics precisely because, in his words, "it´s the only thing that keeps me on my toes."
Today he studies the magnetosphere, an invisible magnetic shield that wraps around the Earth. Although scientists knew that the outer layer
of this shield is buffeted by solar winds that come tearing off the sun
at a million miles an hour, most of them thought that the inner layer,
the plasmasphere, was a relatively placid blanket of electrified gas.
Goldstein changed all that. Using readings from NASA´s IMAGE satellite, he demonstrated that during the most severe solar storms, that supposedly calm blanket of plasma almost completely erodes into outer space. This exposes astronauts to intense electromagnetic radiation, fries circuit boards on defense and communications satellites, and creates 250-foot errors in GPS readings. Goldstein went on to rebuild the models of how the Earth interacts with the sun so that they matched the new data. In the process, he showed the plasmasphere to be a more volatile environment than anyone had predicted. Jim Burch, a colleague of Goldstein´s at the Southwest Research Institute, notes that if it weren´t for Goldstein, "we´d still be trying to figure it all out 10
years from now."-Adam M. Bright