Space Isn't Empty! And other things you never knew about our solar system.

My friends call me Gilly, and I am a fifth year Graduate Research Assistant at the University of Colorado Boulder. I work for Dr. Steven Cranmer in the LASP Space Sciences Building, where I study the atmosphere of the sun and the way that it affects the rest of the solar system. Click here to see my work. Click here to contact me.

I hope to be involved in space missions such as NASA's PUNCH and Parker Solar Probe, ESA's Solar Orbiter, and NSO's DKIST ground based solar telescope. These instruments will all be coming online in the next few years.

A lot of people are taught that space is mostly empty. And for most of the history of astronomy, scientists thought that too.

"To devote the greater part of one's adult life to the lonely recording of the terrible emptiness between the stars is more than can be asked of someone entirely normal. It is perhaps with some realization of this that the Spatio-analytic Institute has adopted as its official slogan the somewhat wry statement, 'We Analyze Nothing.'"-The Currents of Space, Issac Asimov (1952)

Many people picture our solar system like this:

A few planets and some rocks floating around through empty space.

But this is such a barren picture of our home! (No offense to planetary scientists.) While it is true that the density in space is quite low compared to on Earth, we have discovered that the solar system is in fact filled with dynamic processes!

In 1958, [Only 6 years after Asimov wrote The Currents of Space], Eugene Parker discovered that a stiff wind blows incessantly from the sun, filling local interstellar space with ionized gas. The discovery forever changed how scientists perceive space and helped explain many phenomena, from geomagnetic storms that knock out power grids on Earth to the formation of distant stars. [National Geographic]
We have discovered gigantic magnetic force fields, shielding the Earth and some other planets from the Sun's wind. An even bigger field, generated by the Sun, shields the entire solar system from the vast ocean of cold plasma that exists between the stars: the interstellar medium!

When I think of our solar system, this is what I see:

The Solar Wind impinging on the Earth's magnetosphere.
The complex, dynamic magnetosphere of the Earth.'s-magnetosphere-illustrating-major-distinct
The whole solar system plowing through the galaxy.
A more detailed view of the Heliosphere.

I think it is important for people to discover that there is more than just "empty space" up there. Things are happening every day! We call all of these variable processes "Space Weather," and humanity is still in the process of understanding them well enough to make predictions that will keep our infrastructure safe, like we do for normal weather. That line of inquiry is what motivates me to be a scientist.
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My Work

Curriculum Vitae

  • What have I been up to all these years?

Current Research (Summer 2016 - Present)

  • Researching Alfvén wave power in the corona to study coronal heating.

NASA Explorations Interview 2018

  • Outreach Video shown at Planetaria across the country!

Kelvin Helmholtz Instability (Fall 2015/Spring 2017)

  • Final Project for two different classes. Click to explore!

DEM Measurements of the Sun (Spring 2016)

  • Using Spectroscopy to Determine Temperatures

Reduction of Voyager UVS Data (Summer 2014)

  • Using spectroscopy to measure Hydrogen Density

Mock Space Mission Proposal (Fall 2014)

  • Looking for lightning on Titan, Saturn's moon

Spark, Spin, and Freeze (2013 - 2015)

  • Physics demonstration show for all ages

Class Skit (Fall 2015)

  • Project done by incoming class of 2015 at CU

Theatrical Resume

  • I have been in theater for over a decade!

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Get In Touch

Want to collaborate? The best way to get in touch with me is by email.

  • Address

    Space Science,
    3665 Discovery Drive
    Boulder, C0 80303
    United States
  • Email

    Chris.Gilbert 'at'