For the past two years, Air Force Staff Sgt. Samuel Davis, a 2007 graduate of Lone Grove High School, has been in Australia monitoring solar flares at Learmonth Solar Observatory. This type of work can be vital due to the solar flares’  potential impact on so many aspects of the modern, electronic world. Everything from cell phone service to GPS systems can be interrupted by solar flares, and Davis pointed out they can be particularly damaging to the Space Station and high altitude aircraft.
Learmonth Solar Observatory is one of three optical telescopes in the world that specifically monitors solar flares. The other two locations are in New Mexico and Italy.
“Between these three locations we can watch the sun all day long, so there is a full network,” Davis said. “No matter where the sun is going down, we have someone looking at it so we can monitor it all day.” He then went into more detail about this process.
“We monitor the sun and as soon as the flares actually happen we send the message out to all of the different organizations so that they are able to take steps to protect some of their equipment,” Davis said.
Davis grew up in Lone Grove and first joined the Air Force in 2011. Prior to his post in Australia, he was stationed for three years in New Mexico.
“I was lucky enough that I worked for a shop that does the maintenance for the same telescopes,” Davis said. “So I actually went every year for a couple of weeks. When I actually got stationed there, I kind of had an idea of what to expect.” In spite of his previous experience in the country, there were a few adjustments to be made once he made the move down under.
“Culturally, there are some small differences,” Davis said. “You wouldn’t think there’d be a language barrier because we speak the same language, but there are lots of phrases that are just a little bit different than what we’d expect. So it was definitely interesting.”
The observatory is located near the oceanside town of Exmouth, Western Australia. During the winter, tourists flock to its beaches, but summer draws fewer visitors due to daytime highs of well over 100 degrees.
“When people think of Australia, a lot of times they’ll think of the east coast and Sydney,” Davis said. “We were actually on the west coast, and Its’ about a 14 hour drive to the nearest city. So if we had to go to the dentist we had to get on a plane.” Because the observatory is so isolated, the team is very close. In fact, Davis said his former coworkers are what he will miss the most now that he has returned to the United States.
“There’s no base or anything there,” Davis said. “It’s just us at our little site. It’s very remote so it adds a lot of difficulties because you have to do everything by yourself.”
Now that Davis is home he will be enjoying some time off which will include a family trip to Disney World. He will soon be stationed at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.