The 2002 popular writing awards from the Solar Physics Division (SPD)
of the American Astronomical Society will be awarded to Ron Cowen
and Sid Perkins, writers for Science News magazine, and Carolus
J. Schrijver and Alan M. Title, physicists in the Lockheed Martin
Advanced Technology Center. The prizes will be awarded at the 2002
annual meeting of the AAS in Albuquerque next week.

Each year, the SPD awards one prize to a professional scientist and
one prize to a science writer or journalist for articles published in
U.S. or Canadian newspapers or magazines during the previous calendar
year. Prizes include $500 cash and a certificate of recognition.
Articles are judged on relevance to solar physics, educational value,
accuracy, clarity of presentation, and number of readers who would
likely have seen them.

Schrijver and Title’s two-part article “Today’s Science of the Sun”
appeared in Sky and Telescope, February 2001 and March 2001. The
series describes the current state of understanding the Sun, from its
interior to its atmosphere. Schrijver and Title cover diverse topics
including the solar dynamo, helioseismology, magnetic fields, the hot
corona, the solar wind, and possible influences the Sun may have on
earth, life, and weather. They point out that physical processes on
the Sun occur on spatial scales that range from atomic to hundreds of
thousands of miles, and encompass other branches of science as well.
They emphasize the ongoing nature of research by describing currently
unsolved problems for which new observations and improved computing
capabilities are expected to yield solutions in the future.

Cowen’s article “Stormy Weather” and Perkins’ article “Pinning Down
the Sun-Climate Connection” were a two-part series that appeared in
Science News, January 2001, volume 159, pages 26 and 45, respectively.
Cowen describes the cyclic variations in the Sun’s activity, and
explains the differences between two types of solar storm: flares and
coronal mass ejections. He explains current work on predicting the
occurrence of such eruptions and their importance to Earth, where they
disrupt communications and power networks, threaten astronauts and
high-altitude flight crews, and cause the beautiful aurora.

Perkins tackles the difficult task of disentangling solar and earthly
effects on Earth’s climate, addressing phenomena that follow the Sun’s
11-year activity cycle. Temperature, rainfall, forest fires, and
hurricane frequency all appear to correlate with the solar cycle, and
Perkins describes recent work to help explain such correlations. While
variations in the Sun’s output clearly affect conditions in the
earth’s upper atmosphere, whether or how this ultimately affects
weather at the surface remains controversial.

The purpose of the popular writing awards is to encourage scientists,
science writers, and journalists to write about the Sun and thereby
educate the public about results from contemporary solar
research. “This is our Division’s way of thanking a few of the
excellent writers who explain solar research to the public,” said Jeff
Brosius, chair of the awards committee. “We want the writers to know
that we appreciate their skill and hard work.”