Planetary Sciences Tribute

John T. “Jack” Gosling (1938–2018)

This prolific researcher helped us understand the interactions of the solar wind and coronal mass ejections with Earth’s magnetic field.

By , Bill Feldman, , Steve Schwartz, and Michelle Thomsen

John T. “Jack” Gosling died 10 May 2018, in Louisville, Colo., after a battle with cancer. With his passing, the field of space physics has lost one of its most insightful, productive, and influential scientists, and many of us have lost a dear and treasured friend.

Born 10 July 1938, in Akron, Ohio, Jack was a 1956 graduate of Buchtel High School, where he lettered in basketball, track, and cross-country. In 1960, he graduated magna cum laude from Ohio University. He was selected for Phi Beta Kappa and received the A. A. Atkinson Award in physics.

In 1965 Jack received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley. His thesis, guided by Robert Brown, addressed the production of energetic X-rays by charged particle precipitation from the magnetosphere. To collect data for his studies, Jack built instruments that flew on high-altitude balloons near Fairbanks, Alaska.

Studying the Sun

Jack then spent 2 years as a postdoc at the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory (now Los Alamos National Laboratory), where he explored data from plasma instruments on the Los Alamos Vela series of satellites. These studies produced some of the earliest evidence of solar wind structure as the cause of the sudden commencements and sudden impulses of geomagnetic storms. His studies also demonstrated the significant variability in the locations of both the magnetopause and bow shock and the association of that variability with solar wind dynamic pressure.

After his postdoctoral studies, Jack worked for 8 years at the High Altitude Observatory in Boulder, Colo. He focused on observations of solar wind structure and dynamics, including characterization of the “magnetic bottles” of interplanetary coronal mass ejections and the evolution of solar wind stream structure. His studies involved both in situ solar wind data and white light coronograph observations from Skylab.

In 1975 Jack returned as a staff member to Los Alamos, where he worked in various subfields of space physics. For 30 very productive years, he studied the solar wind and Earth’s bow shock and magnetopause. He relished working with data from the International Sun-Earth Explorer (ISEE) 1, 2, and 3 satellites; he reminisced that he would have been happy to finish out his career with those observations but was “dragged kicking and screaming” into examining Ulysses satellite solar wind data collected over the solar poles. Eventually, of course, he thoroughly enjoyed that data set, as well as data from later satellites, including the Advanced Composition Explorer (ACE) and Wind. Upon his retirement from Los Alamos in 2005, he took an appointment at the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics of the University of Colorado.

A Lasting Impact

Jack was a prolific scientist, authoring or coauthoring more than 450 refereed papers. His work was extremely influential: A citation analysis of his work yields an h-index of 89, and his work has been cited more than 27,000 times in more than 13,000 separate articles. As a sign of the enduring utility of his work, his papers were cited more than 900 times in all but 2 of the last 13 years. His most highly cited work, “The Solar Flare Myth in Solar-Terrestrial Physics,” shifted the popular paradigm that solar flares were responsible for intense geomagnetic activity to the more accurate understanding that fast coronal mass ejections drive such storms.

In addition to this and many other seminal contributions to the structure and dynamics of the corona and solar wind, Jack was at the forefront of research into fundamental plasma processes, including collisionless shocks and magnetic reconnection. He led studies on the internal structure of Earth’s bow shock and its role in the acceleration of energetic particles. His work on reconnection elucidated the connection between energetic particles and flows resulting from the changing topology in regions as diverse as coronal mass ejections, Earth’s magnetopause, and the large-scale solar wind plasma.

Service to the Scientific Community

In gratitude for the joy his career had brought him, Jack had a keen sense of obligation to community service. He served on numerous committees and panels for the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and AGU and as a valued reviewer for several scientific journals. He received the editor’s citation for excellence in refereeing three times from the Journal of Geophysical Research, twice from Geophysical Research Letters, and once from Reviews of Geophysics.

He had a particularly strong loyalty to AGU. The majority of his papers were published in AGU journals, and he served 2 years as president of AGU’s Space Physics and Aeronomy section. To support undergraduate and graduate students in solar-terrestrial and space plasma physics, in 2014 Jack endowed a fellowship at the University of Colorado that has already provided fellowships to eight students.

Jack’s scientific contributions did not go unnoticed. He was a fellow of Los Alamos National Laboratory, of AGU, and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received AGU’s John Adam Fleming Medal in 2000 and the National Academy of Sciences’ Arctowski Medal in 2013. He presented the Parker Lecture at AGU’s Fall Meeting 2004.

More than just an excellent scientist, Jack was a model and mentor for numerous postdocs and younger colleagues. All who had the privilege of working with him will attest to the integrity and honesty he brought to his personal research and his collaborations. Any manuscript given to him for comment would come back to the author covered in colored ink. This process (widely known as “Goslination”) was painful but always immensely helpful. There was no doubt that when an author accepted Jack’s comments and wording suggestions, a manuscript would be very much clearer, tighter, and better. He was always insistent that the most important question a scientist could ask is “So what?” This insistence on significance was a hallmark of his own work and of his influence on the work of others.

Taking Joy in Family and Work

Jack married Marie Turner in 1963; they had two sons, Mark and Steve. Marie died in 1990, and in 1994 Jack married Judy Hughes. Jack and Judy’s blended family now boasts eight grandchildren. Jack’s many personal and professional friends knew him to be intelligent, thoughtful, loyal, and funny, with an abiding love for doing science.

Colleagues at Los Alamos recall that after heated discussions about some interpretation or analysis, Jack would often say, “I can’t believe we get paid to do this.”

—Daniel N. Baker, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado Boulder; Bill Feldman, Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Ariz.; Dave McComas (email: [email protected]), Department of Astrophysical Sciences, Princeton University, Princeton, N.J.; Steve Schwartz, Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, University of Colorado Boulder; and Michelle Thomsen, Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Ariz.

Citation: Baker, D. N., B. Feldman, D. McComas, S. Schwartz, and M. Thomsen (2018), John T. “Jack” Gosling (1938–2018), Eos, 99, Published on 26 September 2018.
Text © 2018. The authors. CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
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