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Sarah Kovac

Sarah Kovac
Graduate Students

Contact Info
skovac at
Ay 107

Expertise: Solar Wind Modeling and Evolution, Terrestrial Atmospheres, spectroscopy




I work with Dr. R. T. James McAteer and Dr. Nancy Chanover looking at the solar wind conditions in the inner heliosphere and their impacts on the terrestrial planet atmospheres. Venus and Mars are both known to produce aurorae during large solar events, like coronal mass ejections (CMEs) and solar flares, but the exact chemistry and lower limits for solar wind properties that lead to emission are unclear. Working with C. Nick Arge at NASA Goddard, we are implementing time-dependent solutions to the Wang-Sheeley-Arge (WSA) model to more realistically map solar wind conditions. Using ground-based spectral observations, in situ spacecraft measurements, and novel solar wind modeling techniques, we are working to constrain the conditions needed to produce auroral emission in terrestrial atmospheres.

My past research involved investigating the sources of energy loss from solar coronal plasma. Most free energy that enters the Sun’s atmosphere is subsequently released in the form of radiation or goes towards accelerating particles. These losses take the form of radiative and conductive losses, supplemented by the sudden release of energy in solar flares and CMEs. We estimate the energy lost in both mechanisms by looking at differential emission measures (DEMs), which provide a thermal understanding of plasma.

I am also a member of the Citizen CATE team. As an undergraduate, I worked with Dr. Matthew Penn at the National Solar Observatory studying the fast solar wind. I was a lead student for the Citizen Continental America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment (Citizen CATE) and have been working on the project since 2015. This project captured ~90 consecutive minutes of totality footage during the 21 August 2017 total solar eclipse using hundreds of volunteers across the country. I traveled to Indonesia in 2016 to observe a total solar eclipse, collect data, and test equipment and procedures in preparation for the 2017 eclipse. As a CATE Master Trainer, I was responsible for training volunteers and giving them feedback on practice data leading up to the eclipse. We are currently deriving new scientific results about the dynamics of the solar corona via this novel data set. You can view our preliminary movie on our website. I took similar observations at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory during the 2019 eclipse, which included polarization measurements.


Acceleration of Coronal Mass Ejection Plasma in the Low Corona as Measure by the Citizen CATE Experiment

Penn, M. J.; Baer, R.; Walter, D.; Pierce, M.; Gelderman, R.; Ursache, A.; Elmore, D.; Mitchell, A.; Kovac, S.; Hare, H.; McKay, M.; Jensen, L. + Citizen CATE Team 2017; Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Volume 132, Issue 1007, pp. 014201 (2020).

Instrumentation for the Citizen CATE Experiment: Faroe Islands and Indonesia

Penn, M. J.; Baer, R.; Bosh, R.; Garrison, D.; Gelderman, R.; Hare, H.; Isberner, F.; Jensen, L.; Kovac, S.; McKay, M.; Mitchell, A.; Pierce, M.; Thompson, P.; Ursache, A.; Varsik, J.; Walter, D.; Watson, Z.; Young, D.; Citizen CATE Team; Publications of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Volume 129, Issue 971, pp. 015005 (2017).

Meetings Attended

  • 35th NRAO New Mexico Symposium
  • 34th NRAO New Mexico Symposium
  • 231st AAS
  • Crossroads Eclipse 2017 Research Workshop
  • AGU 2016
  • AAS Eclipse 2017 Conference