Jan 4

AURA Appoints Christoph Keller as next National Solar Observatory Director

Dr. Christoph Keller headshot

  Dr. Christoph Keller, next NSO Director

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA) is pleased to announce that Dr. Christoph Keller has been appointed as the next Director of the National Science Foundation’s National Solar Observatory (NSO) succeeding Dr. Valentin Pillet, who will be retiring as Director in 2024. Previously Dr. Keller was Director of Science at Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona. He will begin his five-year term on May 6, 2024.

“Christoph Keller is an outstanding choice for the next NSO Director,” said Matt Mountain, AURA President. “With his experience and vision for the National Solar Observatory, he is well positioned to lead NSO into the exciting future of solar science, ensuring our community can fully exploit the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope and bring the next generation GONG network to fruition. My thanks also go to Valentin Pillet for shepherding NSO through the profound transformation into the resilient, exciting National Observatory we have today.” AURA manages NSO for the National Science Foundation, under a cooperative agreement.

Dr. Keller earned his Masters of Science in Physics and PhD in Solar Physics from ETH Zürich, Switzerland. He started at NSO in 1994 as a postdoc and then in 1995 he was hired as an Associate Astronomer. During his tenure there, Keller led efforts at the McMath-Pierce solar telescope, then the world’s largest solar telescope; designed, developed, built, and commissioned SOLIS VSM, which provides daily full-disk vector-magnetograms of the Sun; and developed initial science cases and technical concepts for the Inouye Solar Telescope.

In 2005, Dr Keller moved to Utrecht University in The Netherlands and became the director of its Astronomical Institute. After 10 years as a professor at Leiden University, he joined Lowell Observatory as Director of Science in early 2022. 

“After some years away, I am truly excited to return to NSO! Solar physics has always been my first love, and I am thrilled to (re) join the solar physics community as we seek to understand our Sun and its impact on Earth and beyond. Solar physics’ moment is NOW: with NSO’s Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope online, we have the first images of the Sun at unprecedented resolution—right on time for the approaching sunspot maximum,” commented Dr. Keller. He continued, “We will work with a broad range of stakeholders to develop, build, and operate the next generation ground-based solar telescope network — as humanity reaches for the moon and beyond — and will generate the critical data needed to enable unprecedented space weather forecasting that can be used to protect everything from satellites to human space activity.” 

The AURA Board of Directors endorsed the selection of Dr. Keller, the result of an extensive process with a talented pool of candidates. The Chair of AURA’s Board of Directors, Dr. Maura Hagan, said, “The AURA Board of Directors is delighted that Christoph Keller will be the next NSO Director. His strong leadership skills and extensive experience will build upon recent NSO achievements and bring a new direction to NSO.”

“Christoph Keller is a world-recognized astronomer with a solar physics background and a wealth of expertise in techniques such as spectroscopy and polarimetry, precisely those we use extensively in the suite of solar telescopes that NSO operates. This expertise will help advance our new flagship facility, the Inouye Solar Telescope, in the coming years,” noted the current NSO Director, Valentin Pillet.

Dr. Keller’s research expertise includes circumstellar disks and exoplanets; solar and stellar magnetic fields; and aerosols and trace gasses in planetary atmospheres, as well as development of innovative optical instruments for astronomy, remote sensing and biomedical imaging. He has authored or co-authored more than 350 publications and received the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel award for outstanding research in astrophysics. He is a world-leading expert in high-accuracy polarimetry for astronomy and environmental sensing with the world’s largest telescopes and the latest space instruments for climate science.

“Under Valentin Pillet’s leadership, NSF’s National Solar Observatory has been transformed. With the launch of the Inouye Solar Telescope, NSO has flourished in its mission to understand the science of our Sun, and to help inspire and train the next generation of STEM professionals,” said Carrie Black, NSF program director for NSO. “We are excited to welcome back Christoph Keller as he takes on this critical leadership role at NSO, which has become a truly incomparable resource for researchers across the U.S. and all over the world.”

AURA congratulates Dr. Christoph Keller on his new position!

About NSO

NSO advances knowledge of the Sun as the dominant external influence on Earth and as the local archetype of a typical star. NSO supports facilities that provide forefront observational opportunities for the solar research community, and leads the operation of the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope on Maui in Hawai’i. AURA manages NSO for the National Science Foundation under a cooperative agreement.

About AURA

The Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy (AURA), founded in 1957, is a consortium of 49 US institutions and 3 international affiliates. Although it began as a small organization with just eight founding members, AURA is now a thriving scientific institution with 52 members and over 1,700 employees. 

AURA’s role is to establish, nurture, and promote public observatories and facilities that advance innovative astronomical research. In addition, AURA is deeply committed to public and educational outreach, and to diversity throughout the astronomical and scientific workforce.

Media Contacts

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