Dr Shepherd in his office, holding up the COSPAR medal

Professor Emeritus Gordon Shepherd publishes book exploring aurora and airglow of Earth's upper atmosphere

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Distinguished York University Professor Emeritus of Space Science, Gordon G. Shepherd, has published a new book, From Prairie Skies to Outer Space, a memoir which explores his life’s research on the aurora and the airglow in Earth’s upper atmosphere. Shepherd spent roughly half his life in Saskatchewan watching the aurora at night and the other half at York University, developing satellite instruments and missions for exploring the upper atmosphere.
Shepherd was fortunate to have grown up under Saskatchewan skies, watching the aurora borealis by eye, and then being a professor at the University of Saskatchewan when the space age began. As a pioneering space scientist, he was ready to participate in NASA’s billion-dollar UARS satellite mission when the opportunity arose.
The book pays homage to the major research activities of Shepherd’s career in the field of solar terrestrial research. This includes the conception of a field-widened Michelson interferometer for the measurement of winds in the upper atmosphere, called WINDII (Wind Imaging Interferometer), designed and built in Canada, and flown on NASA’s Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite from 1991 to 2003. This design and fabrication of such instruments allow for the observation and research of aurora and airglow in Earth’s upper atmosphere.

The aurora borealis and australis provide an immense amount of information about the influence of the sun on Earth’s magnetic environment. Through the sun’s 11-year cycle of activity, its little-understood longer-term variations, and its short-lived flares, it causes geomagnetic storms that can interfere with radio wave propagation and disrupt power lines. For this reason, its study is of great importance to Canada, as to other polar countries.

The second optical phenomenon is “airglow”, produced by solar ultraviolet light which dissociates molecular oxygen to atomic form, driving chemical activity, including visible light, similar to the aurora, but at a level below the visual threshold of the human eye. Because it occurs continuously, all over the Earth, its study is extremely valuable in characterizing the state of the upper atmosphere.

From Prairie Skies to Outer Space can be purchased on Amazon.

Shepherd has published two previous books, Spectral Imaging of the Atmosphere (2002) and Canada’s Fifty Years in Space – the COSPAR Anniversary (2008).

About the author

Gordon G. Shepherd obtained his BSc and MSc degrees at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon before receiving his PhD at the University of Toronto in 1956. After 12 years as a faculty member at the University of Saskatchewan, Shepherd became professor of physics at York University in 1969. He retired in 2000 and maintains an active research program as Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus.

Shepherd is a highly distinguished academic and has graduated more than 30 PhD students during his career. Awards and recognitions include: Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Fellow of the American Geophysical Union, Fellow of the Canadian Aeronautics and Space Institute, John H. Chapman Award of Excellence from the Canadian Space Agency, SCOSTEP Distinguished Research Scientist Award and the COSPAR William Norberg Medal.


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