Sciences and Exploration Directorate

Burcu Kosar


Burcu Kosar's Contact Card & Information.
Org Code: 675
Mail Code 675
Greenbelt, MD 20771

Brief Bio

Burcu has been working at NASA GSFC since 2015 and she is an expert in atmospheric and space physics, have studied critical regions of the Earth’s atmosphere through computational modeling and satellite data analysis. She has wide range of research interests including plasma discharge physics and computational electromagnetics, lightning related transient luminous events (TLEs), data science, citizen science, ionospheric outflow, and magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling. She is actively involved in data science initiatives at NASA and continuously working to promote adaptation of AI/ML frameworks by the community. She has helped organizing the first NASA GSFC Workshop on Artificial Intelligence, Helio Hack Week 2020, and served as a mentor in internal task groups focused on data science. Burcu strongly supports innovative projects (Aurorasaurus) that can complement traditional scientific research and lead to new discoveries. Being a part of one has given her the opportunity to work with a highly interdisciplinary team and practice public outreach and science communication efforts. Since 2018, she has been leading summer internship activities of Heliophysics Science Division through CUA’s Scientific and Engineering Student Internship (SESI) program.

Fun Fact: I was a professional volleyball player before concentrating my focus on academia. 


Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), Physics (2015), Florida Institute of Technology, USA - Dissertation: Sprite Streamer Formation and Propagation: Theory and Observations,

Master of Science (M.S.), Space Sciences (2010), Florida Institute of Technology, USA - Thesis: Investigation of the Exponential Growth Rates of Sprite Streamer Characteristics

Bachelor of Science (B.S.), Physics (Magna Cum Laude) (2008), Florida Institute of Technology, USA


Research Scientist

The Catholic University of America - Washington, D.C.

January 2018 - Present

Postdoctoral Scientist

New Mexico Consortium - Los Alamos, NM

December 2015 - December 2017

Research Interests

Plasma Discharge Physics, Computational Electromagnetics, Transient Luminous Events, Lightning, Ionospheric Physics, STEVE, Citizen Science, Data Science, Ion Outflow, SciCom and Outreach, Space Physics

Heliophysics: Earth's Ionosphere

I have diverse research interests; however, I am an atmospheric physicist by training, and I have studied the electrical coupling between thunderstorms and the Earth’s middle and upper atmosphere through computational modeling. Of particular interest to me are sprites, which are brief optical emissions associated with the electrical activity of thunderstorm systems. My research work focused on the theoretical study of sprite initiation in the lower ionosphere and the role played by ionospheric inhomogeneities in this initiation process. I have developed an advanced physics-based model to simulate the formation and propagation of sprites and their associated optical emissions.

Current Projects


Earth's Ionosphere

Spritacular is a citizen science project that aims to collect observations of sprites and other optical phenomena occurring above the thunderstorms - collectively known as Transient Luminous Events (TLEs). The database generated from these observations will lay the groundwork for first-ever event catalog of TLEs that will greatly contribute to advancement of scientific studies.

Over the last two decades, good quality cameras have become increasingly affordable which allowed more people than ever before to have access to the tools capable of documenting these powerful atmospheric events. Because of this, Spritacular project strives to establish a collaborative bridge among communities that are actively engaged in chasing these elusive phenomena, newcomers looking to learn more, and the researchers of atmospheric and space electricity.

With this project, we will build an event database of TLEs that will significantly complement current and future science missions by providing ground-based observational data. Not only that, scientific community will be presented and benefit from the exceptional imagery of sprites/TLEs captured by our community. This database will serve as an invaluable resource for researchers allowing them to find interesting cases, perform studies in conjunction with other scientific data, and conduct broad statistical studies.

GDC Misson

Atmospheric Dynamics

Currently involved with the Geospace Dynamics Constellation (GDC), NASA’s next Living With a Star (LWS) mission, that will revolutionize our understanding of the upper atmosphere (300-400km altitudes). This critical region of geospace is where energy inputs from the Sun, Earth’s magnetosphere, and lower atmosphere couple to create a complex and dynamic behavior. GDC’s constellation design in Low-Earth orbit will allow observations of the global and regional responses of the upper atmosphere to aforementioned energy inputs. Currently in Phase A, GDC is planned to launch in 2027. 

Data Science at NASA GSFC

Space Weather

I continuously support efforts to demonstrate the utility of machine learning and artificial intelligence (data science) techniques to advance scientific knowledge using data/models as a part of Science Data Analytics and Machine Learning for NASA Science Mission Data Task Group (Helioanalytics). I also serve as a mentor in internal task groups/IRAD projects focused on data science. 

Alumni of NASA Frontier Development Lab (FDL), an 8-week intensive data science research accelerator program. I was specifically involved with Solar-Terrestrial Interactions (STI) team working on improving our understanding of the solar influence on Earth’s magnetosphere and ionosphere.

I have helped organizing the first NASA GSFC Workshop on Artificial Intelligence and Helio Hackweek 2020. I intend to continue working on the application of data science to the wealth of scientific data collected by various NASA missions led by Heliophysics, Earth and Planetary Science divisions. 

Ion Outflow

Earth's Ionosphere

Effort to demonstrate effects of various types of auroral precipitation on atmospheric ion outflow using a state-of-the-art numerical model, Polar Wind Outflow Model (PWOM).

Heliophysics Science Division SESI Program Coordinator

Since 2018, I have been leading summer internship activities of Heliophysics Science Division through CUA’s Scientific and Engineering Student Internship (SESI) program.



2023. "Agile collaboration: Citizen science as a transdisciplinary approach to heliophysics." Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences 10 [10.3389/fspas.2023.1165254] [Journal Article/Letter]

2023. "Aurora Detection From Nighttime Lights for Earth and Space Science Applications." Earth and Space Science 10 (1): [10.1029/2022ea002513] [Journal Article/Letter]

2022. "Supporting responsible machine learning in heliophysics." Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences 9 [10.3389/fspas.2022.1064233] [Journal Article/Letter]

2020. "Magnetospheric Conditions for STEVE and SAID: Particle Injection, Substorm Surge, and Field‐Aligned Currents." Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics 125 (8): [10.1029/2020ja027782] [Journal Article/Letter]

2019. "Automatic classification of Aurora-related tweets using machine learning methods." Proceedings of the 2019 2nd International Conference on Geoinformatics and Data Analysis [10.1145/3318236.3318242] [Proceedings]

2019. "Space Weather Modeling Capabilities Assessment: Auroral Precipitation and High‐Latitude Ionospheric Electrodynamics." Space Weather 17 (2): 212-215 [10.1029/2018sw002127] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "Aurorasaurus Database of Real‐Time, Crowd‐Sourced Aurora Data for Space Weather Research." Earth and Space Science 5 (12): 970-980 [10.1029/2018ea000454] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "A case study comparing citizen science aurora data with global auroral boundaries derived from satellite imagery and empirical models." Journal of Atmospheric and Solar-Terrestrial Physics 177 274-282 [10.1016/j.jastp.2018.05.006] [Journal Article/Letter]

2018. "New science in plain sight: Citizen scientists lead to the discovery of optical structure in the upper atmosphere." Science Advances 4 (3): eaaq0030 [10.1126/sciadv.aaq0030] [Journal Article/Letter]

2015. "Sprite Streamer Formation and Propagation: Theory and Observations." Florida Institute of Technology Repository [Proceedings]

2013. "Formation of sprite streamers at subbreakdown conditions from ionospheric inhomogeneities resembling observed sprite halo structures." Geophysical Research Letters 40 (23): 6282-6287 [10.1002/2013gl058294] [Journal Article/Letter]

2012. "Luminosity and propagation characteristics of sprite streamers initiated from small ionospheric disturbances at subbreakdown conditions." Journal of Geophysical Research 117 (A8): A08328 [10.1029/2012ja017632] [Journal Article/Letter]

2012. "Formation of Streamer Discharges from an Isolated Ionization Column at Subbreakdown Conditions." Physical Review Letters 109 (2): 025002 [10.1103/physrevlett.109.025002] [Journal Article/Letter]


2022    Robert H. Goddard Award, Outreach (Spritacular Citizen Science Project)

2019    NASA Agency Honor Award, STEVE/Aurorasaurus Team

2019    Heliophysics Science Division Peer Award 

2019    Robert H. Goddard Honor Award, STEVE/Aurorasaurus Team

2018    Best Postdoc Poster, NASA GSFC SED’s 11th Annual Poster Party

2017    Unexpected Discovery Award, NASA Frontier Development Lab

2011    2nd Prize - Mesosphere Lower Thermosphere, NSF CEDAR Student Poster Competition 

2011    Outstanding Student Paper Award, AGU Fall Meeting

2009    Outstanding Graduate Student in Physics, Florida Institute of Technology 

Professional Societies

American Geophysical Union (AGU)

2009 - Present

Sigma Pi Sigma

2007 - Present

Talks, Presentations and Posters


Spritacular - A Citizen Science Project to Study Electrical Discharges Above Thunderstorms


Application of Spherical Cap Harmonic Analysis to Simulated Geospace Dynamics Constellation Data


Investigation on mechanisms in sprites leading to green emissions in the lower ionosphere


Ethical and Responsible AI as a Means of Diagnosing and Eliminating Bias

November 2022

Spritacular: A Citizen Science Project to Study Electrical Discharges Above Thunderstorms 

June 2022

Magnetospheric dynamics associated with STEVE


The response of ionospheric outflow to various types of high latitude auroral precipitation


Reviewing and Applying Methods for Tracking Volunteer Contributions in Citizen Science Initiatives


Tracking Flows and Disturbances in Coronagraph Data


Magnetospheric conditions associated with STEVE


What else can citizen science and 'amateur' observations reveal about STEVE?


Aurora Research: Earth/Space Data Fusion Powered by GIS and Python


New Science in Plain Sight: Optical Manifestations of Coupled Subauroral Features Documented by Citizen Scientists


Aurorasaurus Database of Real-Time, Soft-Sensor Sourced Aurora Data for Space Weather Research


Modeling Geomagnetic Variations using a Machine Learning Framework


On scientific utility inspired by collecting real-time reports of the aurora


Comparison of Citizen Science Aurora Data with Energy Flux Derived from Aurora Observations and Models


Analysis of near real-time citizen science observations to validate model predictions of auroral visibility

July 2016

In-Situ observation of energetic electron fluxes inside thunderclouds using Balloon-borne instruments


Luminosity characteristics of sprite streamers forming from large ionospheric patches at subbreakdown conditions


Characteristics of optical emissions from streamer formation from ionospheric patches at sub breakdown conditions

July 2013

The minimum density requirement for ionospheric ionization patches for sprite streamer formation at subbreakdown conditions


Investigation of density requirement for ionospheric patches for sprite streamer formation at sub breakdown conditions

July 2012

Sprite Streamer Formation in Sub-Breakdown Conditions from an Ionospheric Disturbance


Sprite streamer formation on under-voltage conditions

July 2011

Investigation of the Exponential Growth Rate of Sprite Streamer Characteristics


Effects of ambient field and altitude variation on exponential growth rate of a model positive streamer

July 2010

Selected Public Outreach

Spritacular: NASA’s New Citizen Science Project to Capture Elusive Upper Atmospheric Electrical Phenomena on Camera

September 2022 - November 2022

A straight science explainer about sprites and introduction of NASA's new citizen science project.

The Great Sprite Chase

November 2021 - November 2022

A feature story on NASA’s blog, The Sun Spot, covering the emotional highs and lows of chasing sprites across Oklahoma in October 2021.The project PI, Dr. Burcu Kosar, got to go sprite chasing alongside a very talented citizen scientist Paul Smith.

Spritacular Q&A with Dr. Burcu Kosar

October 2022 - December 2022

In this Q&A, NASA’s Dr. Burcu Kosar talks about her new citizen science project Spritacular and how you can help advance the science of these mysterious electrical phenomena.

New Crowdsourced Science Project Will Study Sprites

December 2022 - 2022

The NASA-funded project is asking sky gazers, storm chasers, and scientists to capture photos of sprites and other optical phenomena that flash above thunderclouds after a lightning strike.

Chasing Sprites in Electric Skies

November 2021 - November 2022

Paul Smith is a night-sky fanatic and photographer. His obsession is sprites: immense jolts of light that flicker high above thunderstorms. Last October, he guided NASA scientist Dr. Burcu Kosar through the backroads of Oklahoma to catch one herself. Although she’d studied sprites for more than 15 years, she hadn’t yet chased one.

Goddard Glossary: Sprites

October 2022 - December 2022

They’re elusive and ephemeral, and we’re studying how they affect Earth’s upper atmosphere. This Goddard Glossary entry is sprites, electrical phenomena that often occur above thunderstorms.

Professional Service

Member of American Geophysical Union (AGU) and Sigma Pi Sigma (National Physics Honor Society)

Panelist for NASA, External proposal reviewer for NSF, Judge for student paper competition at AGU Fall Meeting, Supervised and mentored interns and coordinated an internship program at NASA GSFC, Assisted in paper review for Geophysical Research Letters, and Journal of Geophysical Research, Author/Co-Author of blog posts on sprites and auroral beads, Volunteer at NASA outreach events (USA Science and Engineering Festival 2015, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Science Jamboree 2015 - NASA/GSFC, NASA Heliophysics Booth - AGU Fall Meeting 2016-2017), Participation at APS Professional Skills Development Workshop on Communication and Leadership Skills, 2015 - Baltimore, MD.