A flare for science

  • Published
  • By David R. Hopper
  • 55th Wing Public Affairs

As the nation celebrates National Women’s History Month throughout March, Team Offutt is honoring female Airmen who stand out among their peers.

Capt. Taylor Whitney Aegerter, the Space Weather Flight commander for the 2d Weather Squadron, 557th Weather Wing, has been in the Air Force for seven years.

“The [flight’s] Space Weather Operations Center (WOC) operates around the clock to provide forecasts, warnings and assessments of impacts to DoD equipment and personnel caused by phenomena in the space environment,” Whitney Aegerter said. “For example, the northern lights or aurora borealis is one popular phenomenon that we forecast based off solar activity. The lights are beautiful to behold but they can also disrupt the military’s high frequency communications.”

In addition to a bachelor’s degree in meteorology from the University of Nebraska, Whitney Aegerter earned a master’s in solar and space science from the Air Force Institute of Technology. These degree programs provided her the necessary background in science, technology, engineering and mathematics to effectively conduct the space weather mission in support of the entire Department of Defense.

“In the Space WOC, we mainly keep an eye on the sun because that’s what causes most of the impacts that we see on and around Earth,” Whitney Aegerter said. “The sun has an 11-year cycle of activity, and we are currently coming up to the maximum. That means that over the next few years we’re going to have more sunspots and the associated flares that cause significant impact to military missions.”

Whitney Aegerter said she and her team of 40 officer, enlisted and civilian Airmen also monitor meteors and radiation from outside our solar system that may cause impacts.

“One of the best parts of my job is working with an incredible group of dedicated people in pursuit of the mission,” Whitney Aegerter said. “We get along really well together and are therefore more effective when it comes to keeping watch for space weather events. I love getting to nerd out with them during powerful solar flares!”

Having someone you can relate to in your unit can make the job significantly more enjoyable as friendships form and opportunities arise to inspire and motivate each other through the difficult times in life.

“It’s amazing getting to see women carving new paths in science fields like mine,” Whitney Aegerter said. “I’ve been extremely fortunate in my career to have multiple women mentors at every assignment– sometimes even defying statistics!”

This includes here at Offutt AFB where Whitney Aergerter’s commander is Lt. Col. Janelle Jenniges, who holds a doctorate in space physics.

While STEM-related career fields are currently heavily dominated by men, scientists like Whitney Aegerter continue to blaze paths for future generations.

“My biggest piece of advice is to keep following whatever excites and empowers you, and whenever you get the opportunity, turn around and help the amazing people coming up behind you,” Whitney Aegerter said. “There are so many of us who would not be where we are today, if not for the trailblazing women who came before us. I’m grateful for their hard work and the examples they’ve set!”