John T. Gosling

2000 John Adam Fleming Medal Winner

Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico

John T. Gosling was awarded the John Adam Fleming Medal at the AGU Spring Meeting Honors Ceremony, which was held on June 2, 2000, in Washington, D.C. The medal recognizes original research and technical leadership in geomagnetism, atmospheric electricity, aeronomy, space physics, and related sciences.


“Dr. John T. (Jack) Gosling of the Los Alamos National Laboratory has made outstanding contributions to our understanding of the solar wind and its interaction with the geomagnetic field. His strength is the analysis and interpretation of data obtained from plasma instruments in space; he doesn’t stop at the look?what?we?saw level, but goes on to ask and to answer the difficult questions of physical causes and effects.

“Jack has long studied the evolution of high?speed solar wind streams as they move out through the solar system. The high?pressure interaction regions that develop where fast wind slams into slow wind ahead of it are the dominant solar wind structures in the outer heliosphere. It was Jack who first demonstrated how these interaction regions evolve with distance, ultimately becoming bounded by forward?reverse shock pairs. More recently, he discovered that these interaction regions have large, opposed north?south tilts in the opposite solar hemispheres, a result he explained in terms of flow geometries close to the Sun. Jack was the first to show that the interface between the fast and slow wind often is characterized by a large shear in the flow and a change in chemical composition. He also showed that the slow, dense wind must usually originate within coronal streamers.

“Coronal mass ejections, or CMEs, arise from the sudden release into the solar wind of enormous volumes of plasma previously trapped in the corona by the solar magnetic field. Jack was the first to provide a comprehensive description of these events. He developed techniques for identifying CME material in the solar wind and showed that the helical magnetic fields and magnetic topologies often observed within CMEs can arise from three?dimensional magnetic reconnection. Jack was the first to demonstrate that nonrecurrent geomagnetic storms are caused by solar wind disturbances driven by fast CMEs. Then, in a famous paper provocatively titled “The Solar Flare Myth,” he overthrew the old paradigm that solar flares cause major solar wind disturbances, geomagnetic storms, and auroras, pointing out that CMEs were, in fact, the responsible agent. More recently, Jack showed that CMEs observed in the solar wind at high heliographic latitudes are often enveloped by shock waves produced by their overexpansion. He also demonstrated how a slow CME injected into a faster surrounding wind gets accelerated to high speed.

“Jack has worked extensively on problems related to kinetic aspects of collisionless shocks in space. His paper on the different types of suprathermal ion populations observed upstream from Earth’s bow shock opened up a new era of collisionless shock studies in the late 1970s. Jack and his colleagues dissected the physical processes responsible for heating the solar wind plasma and initiating the acceleration of particles at collisionless shocks. Among other things, Jack provided the first direct observational evidence that a shock is unsteady and constantly reforms when the upstream magnetic field is roughly parallel to the shock normal. Finally, Jack has done extensive work on the problem of magnetic reconnection at the Earth’s magnetopause. He was the first to report observations of reconnection both at high latitudes and along the flanks of the magnetosphere, demonstrated that reconnection often produces bulk flow reversals at the dayside magnetopause, and discovered the offset between the electron and ion edges of the low?latitude boundary layer as a unique signature of the reconnection process.

“Jack stands out in the field of space physics not only because of his phenomenal ability and productivity and the diversity of his work, but also because of some unusual personality traits. His insistence on every detail being absolutely correct, and correctly stated, has struck terror into generations of postdocs. When a solar wind physicist receives a 4?page referee’s report suggesting improvements in every aspect of a paper, there’s a good chance Jack was the referee; but his opinions are deeply respected and usually gratefully accepted. He has served our community well in many ways.

“I am delighted to present Dr. John T. Gosling as the winner of the John Adam Fleming Medal for 2000.”

—MARCIA NEUGEBAUER, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena


“I particularly appreciate Marcia’s citation; not only has she long been a friend and colleague, but also it was Marcia who first proved beyond a doubt that what Biermann and Parker had suggested namely, that a continuous, supersonic wind from the Sun filled interplanetary space actually existed.

“My route to this podium has not been a direct one, nor has it been a solo journey. I’d like to mention a few of the people who have helped make my career in space physics a success. My interest in science developed relatively late, a result of a chance encounter with an astronomy book while laid off from a summer job loading trucks. I initially was in over my head as a physics graduate student at Berkeley, but Bob Brown and Jim Barcus provided just the right level of support in guiding me to my degree while introducing me to the joys of balloon expeditions in the Arctic. As Marcia noted, my career has largely been built on the interpretation of space plasma data; most of those data were provided by a series of superb experiments meticulously designed and executed by Sam Bame. It was Art Hundhausen who, by his example, taught me how to think about and work with space plasma data and who introduced me to compressible fluid dynamics and the physics of stream evolution and disturbance propagation in the solar wind. A large number of individuals, then at the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, were responsible for the success of the coronagraph experiment on Skylab and shared in the initial excitement about and studies of coronal mass ejections. It was also in Boulder that I began collaborating with Vic Pizzo, whose models have provided the basis for understanding the Ulysses measurements at high heliographic latitudes.

“For many years at Los Alamos I have worked closely with Bill Feldman and Michelle Thomsen; their different talents and research styles have nicely complemented my own in a large number of investigations. Bill, Michelle, Goetz Paschmann, Chris Russell, and Norbert Sckopke provided many of the insights that helped unravel the physics of collisionless shocks and effects associated with magnetic reconnection at Earth’s magnetopause during our joint analysis and interpretation of the ISEE 1 and 2 data. Later, Dave McComas joined me in a number of solar wind studies and simultaneously has been developing innovative space plasma instrumentation for the future. Others who have contributed substantially to the work being honored here include Steve Fuselier, Terry Onsager, John Phillips, and Pete Riley, all thriving survivors of the postdoctoral experience at Los Alamos, and Nancy Crooker who manages to challenge past conclusions within imitable grace.

“There is much more I’d like to say, about family, especially Judy and Marie; about friends, colleagues, and editors; about the supportive environment provided by the space plasma team at Los Alamos; about the excellent opportunities that have come my way in science and in life; about our remarkable progress these last 35 years in understanding the solar atmosphere and the plasmas and energetic particles that populate space; about the tremendous satisfaction associated with scientific discovery and new physical insight; about the role of passion in scientific accomplishment; about the merit of playing to one’s strengths; about the value of criticism, creativity, and style; about controversies both scientific and otherwise; about competition and cooperation; about the AGU; and about other things, but the AGU wisely limits these responses. I will close simply by thanking those who nominated me for this medal and the Fleming Committee and the Union Executive Committee for finding me worthy of, and trusting me with, this honor. It is very much appreciated.”

—JOHN T. GOSLING, Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico