Tuesday, December 31, 2013

From the ice: BARREL Status Update #12

The last day of 2013 turned out to be an exciting one for the BARREL team. The Halley team launched Payload 2I at 1144 UT. The balloon reached float altitude of 38 km at 1344 UT.  One member of the SANAE team acted as ground station for Halley while the rest of their team set up to launch their first payload. At 1735 UT, the SANAE team launched Payload 2W, with Halley acting as their ground station. The balloon reached float altitude of 38 km at 1930 UT. Both payloads are working nominally and have been transferred to the UCSC MOC. Payload 2T continues to move around the continent, maintaining an altitude above 35 km. Some weak precipitation was observed by it earlier today despite the fact that geomagnetic activity was quite low. We are looking forward to a possible increase in activity in the next few days due to a coronal hole coming into view on the sun. Fingers crossed! We don't anticipate another launch tomorrow. The winds are predicted to be high for the next day or two.

Happy New Year to all of you!


Launch of 2I

This morning the Halley team was able to launch 2I. Now the big question will be does this year's 2I outlast last years? 1I was our longest lasting payload last year and was up for 38 days. It was a huge outlier but one never knows.

SANAE also may have a launch. We should hopefully know more by the time of the telecom today.

Monday, December 30, 2013

From the Ice: BARREL Update # 11

Hi all, 

The Halley team got Payload 2I flight-ready today and were set up to launch, but had to cancel yet again due to the surface wind conditions. Today was expected to be a bit marginal anyway.  I'm sure our luck will improve soon! The Halley forecast for tomorrow looks more favorable, so I hope to have better news for you then. The SANAE team are also ready to launch, so just waiting for better weather.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

From the Ice: BARREL Status Update #10

Hi all,

    We got the rest of our cargo today including flight batteries! So, we got Payload 1I assembled and bench tested. We expect to have it flight ready early tomorrow if ground conditions are good. We have a possible launch opportunity at Halley in the afternoon Monday. The SANAE team is flight ready and are now just waiting for some good weather. The winds are expected to be too high for a launch there tomorrow.

Payload 2T continues to look good and is now well past  the Antarctic peninsula. Everything is working nominally and the altitude profile looks great. We actually detected a gamma ray burst early in the morning and some very weak precipitation later in the day. Nothing too exciting yet, but it's great to see that things are working well.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

From the ice: BARREL Status Update #9

Payload 2T continues to look good and is now halfway across the Antarctic peninsula. Everything is working nominally and the altitude profile looks good so far.

At Halley, we are hoping for another launch opportunity tomorrow morning. Payload 2U is ready to go.  The winds are expected to be low again in the morning, so we plan to set up first thing and launch before noon if the weather holds.

The SANAE team have checked out their inflation system and have their first payload just about ready to go.  However, they have 20 knot winds predicted for tomorrow so we don't anticipate a launch from SANAE tomorrow.


Friday, December 27, 2013

From the ice: BARREL Status Update #8

Today we had our first launch from Halley. Payload 2T was launched at 1208 UT. The payload reached float altitude (~38 km) at 1410 UT. So far the balloon looks healthy and the payload is working nominally. A small photo is attached.

As a reminder, you can view the data live at http://soc2.ucsc.edu. The default view is our "live data" screen which may not be your favorite way to view data. But, you can click on the buttons near the top to view a map, or make plots. Quicklook plots of the x-ray count rate will also be posted once per day.  Other plots of mostly housekeeping data can be viewed at: http://earthweb.ess.washington.edu/mccarthy/BARREL/2T

We don't plan to launch another payload tomorrow. The SANAE team expects to have a payload ready Sunday and the Halley team has a possible launch opportunity Sunday. I'll provide a weather update in tomorrow's status.


Hi, this is Alexa. I've taken Robyn's photo and tried to point out some of the different components of our payload that can be seen. The image is below. 

Launch of 2T

This morning we had a successful launch of payload 2T! It was launched from Halley at about 12:00 UT and reached float altitude at ~14:00 UT. Congrats to the Antarctic teams.

From the ice: BARREL Status Update #7

Hi Folks,

  We had another launch attempt at Halley today, but as soon as we got things set up, the winds increased and stayed right around 10 knots with gusts to 12 knots throughout most of the day. So, we cancelled today, but things look better for tomorrow. Third time's a charm, I hope! The SANAE team got their sensitive cargo off the ship today, including flight batteries. They've been working on getting their first payload ready in addition to waiting for us to launch all day. I hope I have more exciting news for you all tomorrow!


Wednesday, December 25, 2013

From the Ice: BARREL Status Update #6

Quick update on the weather here. We have a possible launch opportunity starting at around noon on the 26th of Dec. at Halley. We'll be setting up in the morning and assessing the surface wind conditions. The winds are expected to be decreasing through the day so we may be on hold for quite a while. 

Merry Christmas to everyone!


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

From the ice: BARREL Status Report #5

We almost had our first launch today at Halley. As predicted, the winds were low enough in the morning, but by the time we got everything set up, the winds had picked up and were on the rise. We decided to cancel, but it was a great chance to do a dry run. SANAE acted as our ground station during the whole process as planned and that also worked well. Tomorrow doesn't look very good but we are hoping for another chance Thursday morning.


Happy Holidays

Monday, December 23, 2013

From the Ice: BARREL Status Report #4

The SANAE team finally arrived on station Sunday! Today (Monday),
they set up their ground station and conducted a test of it by calling
one of the Halley payloads. The Iridium downlink and terminate
commands were successfully exercised.

At Halley, we finished bench testing Payload 2U and buttoned it up.
We'll take it outside for a full up system test tomorrow morning. Dave
continued to collect more calibration data on the mags.

We also completed our ATP/FRR today and received the official go ahead
to proceed with launching. Thanks to all the NASA folks for calling in
so close to Christmas! We are ready to launch as soon as the surface
weather looks good.

The winds are expected to be low enough at Halley to launch tomorrow
morning but predicted to be variable in direction. We are going to
look at it in the morning to assess whether we have a launch
opportunity. The winds are expected to increase for the next couple of
days after that.


Quick update

The SANAE team has reached the South African Base! They are expecting that their first launch date will be on December 26th if the ground weather is good.

We'll keep you posted as we get some more news.

Happy Holidays,

The BARREL Team.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

First daily update up on the dedicated science blog

As we are getting close to our first launch for the 2nd BARREL campaign, we are starting our daily updates again. However this year we have a specific blog for these updates. Check us out on the BARREL science blog. You can find the link on the right hand side of the header.

Don't forget to bookmark the new page if you are interested in keeping up to date with the running of the BARREL campaign.

See you around,


From the ice: BARREL Status Report #3

Today at Halley, we took Payload 2T outside for a full system test. We also did some additional magnetometer testing. So far, all looks good though we'll need to examine the data more carefully to declare this payload flight-ready. Payload 2U (formerly 1F)  is now on the bench and we've begun bench-testing.

The upper level winds look great so we should be ready to launch as soon as we complete our ATP/FRR on Monday.  The surface weather prediction looks marginal for the early part of next week. There is a slight chance that we'll have a launch opportunity late Monday but the wind is expected to pick up on Tuesday.

We finally got in touch with the SANAE team today. Unfortunately, they are still stuck at Novolaverevskaya, with 60+ knot winds. No chance for flying out of there is expected until at least Christmas Eve.


And a photo from last year's campaign. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

From the ice: BARREL Status Report #2

Today at Halley, we finished bench testing of Payload 1T (formerly
Payload 1P) and assembled it into flight configuration. The weather
has gone from glorious yesterday to cloudy with 20 knot winds today.
So, we'll have to wait to get the payload outside for its final
full-up system test.

In the meantime, we also visited the "maggie shaft" which is an
underground tunnel that houses the Halley magnetometer. We collected
some test data with one of our magnetometers, and will be going back
to collect more data with all of our mags. This will allow us to
compare our measurements with the Halley measurements as a test of our

Thanks to CSBF for the stratospheric wind maps. They'll be providing
these to us regularly so we can monitor the upper level winds.

Finally, just a reminder: There is a tab near the top of the page that will link you to our
science blog if you are interested in the nuts and bolts of things
like burst coordination with Van Allen Probes instrument teams or
geomagnetic conditions.


Thursday, December 19, 2013

From the Ice: BARREL Status Report #1

BARREL Status Report #1
December 19, 2013

Hello from Halley! This is the first of daily status reports for the
2013/2014 BARREL Campaign. I'm using the email list from last year, so
please let me know if you would like to be removed from the list.

The Halley team arrived yesterday in record time. We left the SANAE
team at Novolaverevskaya, the Russian base that we flew into from Cape
Town. We haven't heard from them yet, so are hoping they'll make it to
SANAE soon!

Good progress was made at Halley today. The launch site had been
groomed and helium tanks placed before we arrived, so we were able to
checkout the entire inflation system and launch equipment today. We
also set up our lab space and started checkout of our first payload.
Our Flight Readiness Review has been scheduled for Monday, December

All for now...


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thursday at AGU - reminder Data workshop

It has been a long week and although I've tweeted more than I ever have in my life, I haven't been able to blog like last year. I blame the slow internet and the battery life of my computer. However those are bad excuses.

As with every year AGU seems to be getting bigger and bigger and busier and busier. Sunday was of course Mini GEM which is always great and fun, but even that was busier. They scheduled meetings through lunch. They were great meetings and we were rewarded with ice cream and coffee, but I have expect that next year or soon we'll start having a two day session on Saturday and Sunday.

Monday was incredibly productive as we had our BARREL Burst Coordination meeting with the Van Allen teams as well as with Cube Sats and ground based researchers. We now feel ready and that we have a solid plan for this years campaign which could start within the next few weeks depending on ground based weather.

Tuesday of course was the day with most of the BARREL talks. It was fantastic to see all the types of research done with our data! Some of it has been presented before, but quiet a bit of it was new or extensions of those previous topics.

Yesterday was a few posters and there seemed to be quiet a bit of interest. I kept wanting to get to the oral sessions, but instead was caught up in the poster session talking with people and seeing some amazing research. As always there is too much great stuff to see at AGU and it's hard to get to everything one wants to see.

Today we again have a few posters and our summary talk. The talk should be a really great overview of all the current projects and the campaigns in general. It's at 9:30 am in Moscone West in session SA41C-07. We hope to see you there! Zan and Leslie will have posters in the afternoon session so make sure to find them. This afternoon we will also be holding a data workshop where you can come see our data and learn how to best view it. We'll be set up at one of the end tables in the poster session, hopefully close by to Zan and Leslie's posters.

Friday is the last day of AGU and a day to relax a bit. There aren't as many radiation belt talks scheduled, but instead I seem to have scheduled myself into a constant stream of side meetings. It will be another productive day. It's not often that so many of our collaborators can all get together, and although there are phone calls and e-mails, working side by side still seems to produce results in the most efficient way. Besides it is always nice to be able to sit and talk with our international collaborators. Phone calls to Europe are expensive and with the time delay e-mail conversations are long, not necessarily a bad thing as it gives you time to think, but not the fastest way to get research done.

Although AGU officially ends on Friday, there are other meetings going on this weekend in San Francisco. Saturday I think I might try to sit in on the THEMIS meeting. We are starting to get some great collaborations going with the THEMIS team so it would be good to catch up with them and see how their mission is going.

It has been a busy week and it's not even over yet. These conferences are a ton of fun and always a place where I come away feeling like I just too an intensive space physics course. I always seem to also have homework from these meetings...

Hope you all are having a great week too and if you are also at AGU hopefully we'll see you around!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Wed. at AGU.

We had some great talks yesterday and now today we start the posters! 

Xinging starts us off by looking at Microburst Precipitation. You can find him at poster SM33A-2147.  The session starts this afternoon at 1:40. 

We look forward to seeing you there and keep up with what we're seeing and doing at the meeting via Twitter. If you want to see what else is going on at AGU just follow the hash tag #AGU13. There are also live feeds running at the AGU website. Virtual participates can even ask questions. So if you ever wanted to see a science conference, here is your chance!  

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sorry I didn't write anything yesterday about the first day of AGU but it was busy. We had our Bust Coordination meeting in the morning and our BARREL lunch at noon. All throughout the day there were great posters and talks and of course great conversations. However today is the first day that we'll have BARREL data being presented!

A list of today's Talks with BARREL data

SM23C 3:10 - 3:25 Carol Weaver et al. Ground and Satellite EMIC wave Observations in conjunction with BARREL electron precipitation.

SM24B-05 Lauren Blum et al. New Conjunctive CubeSat and balloon based measurements to quantify rapid energetic electron precipitation.

SM24B 5:15 - 5:30 Alexa Halford et al. First results from BARREL 2013 Campaign; Observations of precipitation on drift echo timescales.

SM24B-07 Michael McCarthy et al. Temporal Characteristics of Impulsive Electron Precipitation Associated with Thunderstorm Activity.

See you all at AGU!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Quick updates of what's going on in the next few weeks.

Things are busy here so just a few quick updates.

FIREBIRD had a successful launch late last night and all things are looking good. We are excited to be working with another student run cubesat mission! REPTILE was wonderful and is still going. These two cubesat missions together will add even more excitement to this years campaign. We have one great paper out from the REPTILE collaborations (with hopefully more to come) and we hope to have the same great outcomes with FIREBIRD.  Also as a teaser, I'm getting the launch video at AGU so we'll be able to post it here. Let me just say it is awesome and I can't wait to share it.

1) Mini GEM - This Sunday is Mini GEM and we hope to have another great showing of BARREL data throughout the day. I know I am working on putting together some stuff on mapping and substorms. It's very interesting if I say so myself... granted I might be a bit biased.

2) AGU - AGU will be very busy as always. We have almost everyone from the team presenting on BARREL data. We also have a few collaborators presenting on BARREL data and BARREL events. I'll try to put a list and schedule up here in the next few days. We will be participating in the Van Allen data workshops so if you haven't seen our data yet please feel free to stop by and have a chat!

3) People start heading down to the ice. Since everyone is flying this year many are also going to AGU. However they have to leave from San Francisco thus everyone is packing furiously and even those of us not traveling to the ice are trying to help out.

4) Mission monitors - We've already had a few training sessions for the mission monitors. They are  comprised mostly of undergrads and we are so thankful for their help! Throughout the campaign they take 3-hour periods where they look through the data almost constantly and fill out reports every 30 mins making sure that the payloads are at altitude, preforming properly, and if there are any problems, contacting the duty scientists so that we can fix them. It's a bit of a tedious job but a necessary one and we are so thankful for their help!

5) Dry run with Van Allen Probes. Dec. 17th we will be holding a dry run of a day in the life of BARERL. It's been a little less than a year since the campaign so we figured we needed a bit of practice before the real thing. We'll have a daily e-mail update, I'll make some fake plots, we'll gather the SW data and go through the motions.

6) The start of the mission! In the days leading up to the first launch I'll start the daily e-mails back up. If you are not on the e-mail list and should be, please let me know.

This is just the short list. We are hoping to have more outreach this year during the campaign. We're hoping to put together a google hangout! We've added a twitter account and of course we are on Facebook.

Happy Holidays and if you are going to AGU we'll see you soon!

Friday, November 22, 2013

New paper with BARREL

A new paper using BARREL data is out and is open access! This last campaign we had some great conjunctions with the Colorado Student Space Weather Experiment's cube sat.  Some great science has come out of this collaboration and is now in a Geophysical Research Letters (GRL) in the Van Allen Probe's special issue.

New conjunctive CubeSat and balloon measurements to quantify rapid energetic electron precipitation by Blum et al GRL 2013 

It was wonderful to collaborate with Lauren and the rest of the cubeSat team. I hope this is just the first of many such collaborations. We have a few others that have been submitted and are in the process of being submitted. As they come out we'll make sure to keep everyone up to date. 

Congrats Lauren et al on a great paper! 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Setting up the collaborations with the Van Allen Probe teams

Things are all coming together. We've shipped the payloads, we have the tickets bought for the teams heading to the ice, we have our ground stations all set up and waiting for that first call. We've gotten the mustered to take to the ice (if you want condiments for your sandwiches in Antarctica make sure to bring your own). Okay we're keeping busy with a bunch of other things still left to prepare for, but the nerves and excitement are starting to kick in as we plan the collaborations with the Van Allen Probe teams.

Today was that next real step, at least for me, for this campaign. I've been busy helping out in the lab when needed, processing and studying data and events from the last campaign, helping to ship our payloads and equipment, writing papers and giving talks, and every once in awhile talking with our colleagues about the coming season and how we may do things differently from last year. But today I started joining the EFW SOC telecoms to start officially talking about and planning this years campaign coordinations. It now feels real, the 2014 Campaign is here and starting. We are no longer preparing for it; it is here.

Today's SOC meeting was mostly spent catching up on what our plans are for BARREL. When will we get to the ice, when is the earliest possible launch date, when is the likely first launch date, how long will the campaign likely run. Questions to frame the time period where we'll be in close communications. Then the important questions, where will we have our breakfast meeting at the American Geophysical Meeting (AGU) in San Francisco and will there be bacon. Okay so that last part I added (everything is better with bacon). At AGU, when we can all sit down face to face with some coffee in hand, we plan to meet with all the teams and people who will be making these quick decisions. Hopefully we'll figure out when best to ask the satellite teams to go into burst mode, how long will it take to get that data down, and how much data can we collect before we start writing over something interesting.

The excitement is starting and it's hitting home that we're really not that far away from launching the first payload of the second BARREL campaign. That first launch is no longer months away but weeks from now.  We are so thankful for the wonderful help and support we have gotten from the different Van Allen teams as well as from our other colleagues . It will be a blast to be working so closely with them again this year, I only hope they feel the same way :).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

We're on our way...

This post is a bit late, but we've been busy! Everything has now been shipped to South Africa and will soon be on it's way by boat to Antarctica. The campaign is really almost here.

We've labeled all the SKB's (those big black crates). Inside most of them are our payloads, almost all put together to make it easy for the teams at the ice to get them set up and do the final testing. They are also easier to pack this way. Once we pack them up in the lab at Dartmouth, we have to drive them over to the shipping center. Thank goodness a few of us have larger cars so we can get a few of them in at a time. 

The shipping center isn't far away, but once there it's a lot more work to be done. First we have to take all the supplies which aren't packed in SKBs, such as the balloons and the solar panels which are shown below, and pack them on slates. The wooden platform is built so that it can be easily carried by the fork lift. In order to make sure that everything stays put we first try to tighten everything down with some strategically placed ribbons. We then essentially have to wrap the whole lode with saran wrap. 

Once everything is packed we "stage it". All that means is that we move all of the packages to the loading dock. 

Then it's just a waiting game till the shipping truck comes and picks them up. And now they are off to South America. 

Remember that during the campaign we will be live tweeting the the payloads are launched, cutdown, and other interesting tidbits. 

See you all at AGU! 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

In case you missed it

I just found today a wonderful article written by Karen Fox about BARREL. They also have a great slide show from the Halley station. You can also find their quick little article with a few more wonderful photos here.

Looking back on the success and fun photos from the 2013 campaign has me excited for the upcoming 2014 campaign. We're starting to ship payloads tomorrow down to SANAE IV and next week we plan to start shipping to Halley 6. Just a couple of more months before we start launching balloons! With that said there is still so much to do (write papers, give a few presentations at upcoming meetings, talk with collaborators ect. ) I should get back to work.

Enjoy the little articles and photos!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mission Readiness Review

Today is an exciting day. Today we have gone though our Mission Readiness Review (MRR). During the MRR we go through how last years campaign worked, what might be changed in this upcoming campaign, and making sure that we have checked and rechecked everything.

Since we are launching from non-American stations we have to make sure that we are following the NASA safety guidelines. We also have to make sure that the people we are sending down have gone through all the safety for hand launching balloons. All of this was taken care of this past summer and of course prior to the last campaign. Safety is always important in the Lab and field, but even more so when you are in hard to get to places.

Now that the MRR has finished we can start shipping all of our payloads to their launched stations. This is when it all starts feeling real. Now we just have to make sure that we have all of us staying in the Northern Hemisphere are ready for our close collaborations with the Van Allen Satellite teams.

This coming campaign we hope to once again use the Blog to give updates and summaries of how the campaign is going. We have added (in case you haven't noticed) a twitter feed for BARREL. We hope to use the twitter feed to give even faster updates as to when each payload is launched or terminated. Of course we'll have the daily e-mails about the current space weather conditions and such for the science collaboration teams as well as our telecons. We hope to meet at AGU to discuss how to best run these sessions.

On the science side of things we have a number of GRLs that are hoping to be, or have already been, submitted to the special Van Allen issue. We'll post updates as they come up in the pre-print sections. A number of the team members will be at a workshop at UNH on EMIC waves, and then most of us will be at AGU. It will be an exciting few months leading up to the launch of our first payload for the new campaign!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Cluster meeting in Tromsø Norway

This week I have been in Tromsø Norway at the European Space Agency Cluster meeting. It has been fantastic and I am so glad they invited us to come and give a talk. I have learned so much from how to start planning a potential new spacecraft mission (well the very beginning of an idea about the planning of the mission) to magnetopause dynamics (the location where the solar wind from the sun collides with our magnetic field), to geotail dynamics (the part of our magnetosphere which goes from the night side of the Earth and away from the sun), to how to take a good photo of the aurora ( although a tripod is not mandatory, it sure helps). 

Due to the budget cuts at Most institutions across the US and at NASA, I am one of just a couple of Americans at this conference which is a bit strange as most of the conferences I attend have the majority of the attendees from the United states. I have been very lucky to attend and it has given me a chance to meet scientists from all over Europe. I hope that this will lead to more collaborations with my new friends as they are doing some great and very interesting work. I also hope that I was able to represent BARREL, the US, and US science projects well. 

Today in the afternoon we will have a field trip out to visit EISCAT an incoherent radar. It will be a nice break from talks and hopefully another great opportunity to discuss science and potential projects in an informal setting. We have a few potential leads for collaborations between Cluster and BARREL this coming northern hemisphere winter, but I would love to walk away from here with a solid idea for some collaborations. 

If you live in the auroral region, make sure to check out the nit sky we've. Been able to see some great aurora this week and tonight looks like it is going to be another great night to observe aurora!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Happy birthday Van Allen probes

Happy birthday to the Van Allen probes. They launched 1 year ago today. There was a great public lecture on the mission to date and we were very lucky to have been mentioned multiple times during the presentation. Check out our twitter feed on the right hand side to see what was discussed. 

Hopefully this is the first of many, well at least 4, birthdays for the mission. The satellite does have an end date as it will eventually run out of fuel, but that's a ways down the line. This first year has been incredibly successful and we are very excited to have been able to be apart of it. During the presentation it was pointed out that BARREL and the satellites were able to look at microburst and chorus waves. It is thought that the chorus waves are able to push the electrons farther down the field line and eventually they are lost through collisions with the neutral atmosphere. If the electrons didn't hit the atmosphere they would happily bounce along the field lines until their mirror points were moved either down the field line or they encounter the magnetopause and are lost back out into the solar wind. 

I am sure I have posted this before, but it's just so cool, chorus waves can be listened to as we do with other radio frequencies. Here is a link to some chorus waves, so named because they sound like the dawn chorus of birds, and these waves are often observed in the dawn sector.


Happy birthday Van Allen Probes 

Monday, August 26, 2013

IAGA 2013

Merida Mexico is beautiful! Since I either had the choice of getting into Merida at about midnight on Saturday or midnight on Sunday, the day before the conference, I chose to have a more relaxed conference and go on Saturday. 

It was perhaps the best decision. I was able to meet up with a bunch of collaborators and tour around town. 

Space physics was of course discussed, as its hard to not discuss something that we all love, and I found out that there might be another smaller balloon campaign going on in Canada at the same time as our campaign this coming winter! This means that we can try to coordinate and have them launch at the same time as we do. The really cool thing is that since they are also hand launching much smaller payloads and can drive to pretty much drive to any L-value and MLT value (magnetic location, associated with latitude and longitude). They need about a days notice, but that means that we could let them know where are balloons would be conjugate to and they could launch one at that location. 

If you may remember the earth has a magnetic filed which kind of looks like the magnetic field you can see using a bar magnet and iron fillings. 

If you notice, a field line comes out of one side and goes on on the other side. With this other balloon mission we could potentially have our balloon at one end, their balloon at the other end, and potentially the Van Allen probes at a couple of locations along that field line. This would give us at least 4 points allowing us to see the differences one might find at either end point and see what in space may be causing this precipitation. 

We've also had now the first morning of sessions, and I am surprised at how much great science is being shown at such a relatively small conference. Since its a smaller conference people are getting a chance to talk for longer and also talk more in the coffee breaks. 

It is also great to see how many people from outside of the US are able to attend this meeting. It is sometimes hard for our international collaborators to join at all the meetings occurring in the States, and depending on where they are traveling from, conferences in Mexico, Asia, or Europe are some times much easier to get to and attend. This week will be a great opportunity to be able to catch up with them and perhaps start some strong international collaborations. 

Have a great day!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Van Allen Science working group workshop in Van Allen Hall

The work shop is half over and I feel like I'm in the middle of a masters class on the radiation belts, how to manage an entire satellite mission, and how to think about budgetary/more business like issues. When I decided to become a physicist I never thought about the fact that I might have to be a manager, a low level accountant, writer, software engineer, teacher, travel agent ect. 

The week started with flying to the land of Van Allen (Iowa university). I think I touched ground in 5 states before landing in Iowa (the 6th state for the day).  All the flights were well worth it though! 

Even through I might not have been sure which airport I was in by the end of the day, I knew I must be in the right place as they had an exhibit of the history of flight and included early ballooning efforts.

The university is beautiful and the entire downtown area is filled with art. But you can't miss that Van Allen lived and worked here. Apparently some people got a cab ride and the driver had given rides to Van Allen and had some great stories about this amazing man.

The entrance to the hall has a very nice exhibit about all the research done in the physics lab, but also a good sized  exhibit on the explorer missions and the radiation belts.

All the sessions have been in the Van Allen Hall which seems very fitting. We've had some great discussions about the January 17th event (a big one for BARREL), the March 17th event, EMIC waves  (as we look towards the future), and of course planning for this next years campaign.

One thing that has surprised me as I've worked with the Van Allen teams is that they have been able to adapt the software on the satellite to make changes on the fly and improve compression rates as we see what's important and what's interesting so that we can gather more data. For example, last year during our campaign we started running into the problem of possibly overwriting interesting data. They have a set amount of storage space up on the satellite and it can take a lot of time to send the data back to Earth, so once that storage space has been completely full, it starts overwriting the oldest data. This year though there are plans to send up a new command to the satellite which would allow us to say "Keep this bit of data it's important" and then if we use up all the storage space we can protect the interesting stuff and make sure it doesn't get overwritten.

We have been working very hard, but we have gotten a chance to have a bit of fun. Craig, the PI of the EMFISIS team, and his wife were kind enough to invite us all to their home for nibbles and drinks. Of course the table ornament was a Lego version of one of the Van Allen Probes.

One of the reasons I love this field is that there are great and kind people in it. These "out of the office" get together are always so incredibly useful. When I was a younger student It was great to see that these big names in the field were just like anyone else. It also gave an opportunity to approach and talk with them in a more relaxed setting. It's amazing how many collaborations and funding opportunities come out of the after workshop dinners. It's also interesting to see how much easier it is to think in a more relaxed setting. I've seem the start to a good number of projects come from doodles on napkins. This is something that you can only get at in-person meetings and one of the reasons that they are just so important. Skype or Google hangouts, well very useful, just don't allow for the luxury of walking away, grabbing a cup of coffee, and then catching back up for dinner where the conversation easily goes from "hows life", to "what did you think about so-and-so's presentation", to "hey we could easily answer this with your code and my data". Before you know it you have a whole new project and some interesting answers to share with the field.

This has been a great meeting thus far and I can't wait to see what I'm going to learn today, and who I'm going to meet to collaborate with!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

AeroSphere and Dark Art

Okay so these two things aren't really science but more art, but they are cool. And it gives me a chance to share some of the history of ballooning.

Of course the origins can be traced back to a few different places and the farthest back I found was from China. In China paper balloons were used for military signalling. Bt the first documented balloon science that I found was traced back to France in the 1700's. Each of the first flights were one part science, and one part spectacle with tens of thousands turning up to watch each flight.

One of the first scientific experiments done with a balloon was to fly a rooster, a duck, and a sheep. This was to determine if humans could indeed survive a balloon flight. The duck was a control as it was an animal known to be able to live at higher altitudes, the chicken was a control as it was also a bird, but a bird that doesn't fly, and the sheep represented a human as it's a larger mammal.

Soon after humans started flying and every one was trying to fly higher and longer distances. Eventually two brave men decided to try to cross the English channel. There is another interesting scientific/artistic experiment that tells this story (watch the video below).

Ballooning and science using balloons really took off during the romantic era where it was very common for art and science to overlap. Wordsworth wrote pomes about ballooning, beautiful artwork depicted the scientific experiments, and still today we have overlap. To one extreme we have the performance group AeroSphere using balloons. However we also have many of our data inspiring art work be it sprites (lightning strikes), or the Alien birds. I heard of, but can't find the link for a quilt designed off of one of the model runs of the magnetosphere that won a prize. 

When art and science mix it's always exciting.

This week Robyn and I are at the Science working group meeting for the Van Allen Probes (being held in the Van Allen Hall at the University of Iowa). Hopefully we'll have some great things to share after this meeting. I'm trying to post a few updates on twitter so keep an eye out for little tidbits through out the week.


Thursday, August 8, 2013

Long time no posts, What's coming up.

Sorry for the radio (or internet) silence. After GEM I was a bit sick and then went out west. I got to visit with Michael who builds all of our spectrometers.  I got to see  how they are built, tested, and put together.  I unfortunately don't have photos of those, but the campus at University of Washington is beautiful! They also have a good sized space physics department.  I'll have to make sure to stop by there more often when I'm on the West Coast. We got to talk a lot of science which is always fun and exciting. 

Granted I also went whale watching. One can't work all the time. 

But now it's back to the grind stone and I've been catching back up for the last few weeks and preparing for this next fall. It's going to be a busy one. 

First up; next week a few of us will be going to the Van Allen Science Working group meeting in Iowa. We'll be having a Van Allen conference in the Van Allen Hall

Van Allen was an amazing man. He and his grad students were the first to discover the radiation belts around the Earth. The data collected by the Australians and gathered by Sputnik could have been the first, but since they were on two different sides of the cold war, the data wasn't processed until after Explorer 1 had already launched and confirmed the existence of the inner radiation belt. As you may have guessed the Van Allen Probes were named in honour of him and are now the latest Satellite mission focused on studying and understanding the radiation belts. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Hang tests

We are currently conducting our hang tests. We want to make sure that the payloads hang evenly when they are aloft. This is perhaps one of the most fun bits of putting the payloads together. Everyone  comes together to help and we take a "field trip" to Fairchild tower (the tallest place indoors on campus where we can hang out payload) and quite literally hang the payloads. 

This test accomplishes a few things. As we stated above this allows us to make sure that the payloads hang evenly, but we also take the weight of the payload as well. Knowing the weight helps us determine how much we need to fill up the balloons with helium. We don't want too much helium as that could either burst the balloon or have us flying at too high of an altitude, and we don't want too little as then we might not get up to the correct altitude or may come down too early. 

This is also one of the last things we do before shipping the payloads off to storage so having the hang test means we're getting closer to the finish line! 

Here you can see the payload sitting on the cart and the parachute up on the second floor

One of the most important jobs, just like when climbing, is the  belaying. We don't want the payload to fall either on us, or just to the ground and break!

At the end of the test we remove the terminate box (the instrument that cuts the rope between the balloon and the payload) and roll up the parachute all ready to pack. 

Since the set up for this test is a bit cumbersome we try to do it for multiple payloads at a time. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Photos from the lab

As I stated earlier, we've had a visitor to the lab! It's been so nice to have him around and I'm sure that he's going to have a ton of fun down on the ice this next Jan and Feb! Yesterday I forgot my camera, and I did today as well, but thankfully my phone was charged and also happens to be a camera.

Tomorrow we are going to be doing a hang test. It is just what it sounds like, we hang the payload. We make sure that it is hanging level and then also weigh the payload and flight train. This gives us an idea of how much helium we need for it to fly at a specific altitude, a useful thing to know. The hang tests are always fun, lots of down time, but fun.

You can see our payload sitting there. That big black wire is the iridium cable. It goes out the window on the left and up to the roof top where we have some antennas.  We make sure to test the modem and our ability to be able to talk with the payload. This last winter we also used the antennas to talk with the payloads down on the ice and get our data back from them. 

You can almost see my office (the observatory) in the background there. You can also see all the styrofoam boxes which we enclose the payloads in. This helps us regulate (a bit) the temperatures. Instead of a black box, we have a white box! 

In the front of the payload you can see a cylindrical bit of foam, our magnetometer hides out in there. Once everything is attached, we put the magnetometer on a boom (stick) which sits a ways away from all the other electronics. This helps limit, but does not remove all, magnetic signals due to the electronics from the payload. 

Rainbow over the building and CMEs

While we have our esteemed visitor here with us, we were hoping to get a roof top test done. The roof top test is where we put the payload up on the roof and test the batteries ability to charge off of solar cells as well as the solar cell connections. However this week (and the last few it seems) have been cloudy and rainy. Last night however when on my way home I looked back and saw a rainbow over the building... perhaps that is a sign that things are clearing up? Probably not, but it was pretty to look at.

While looking for a good site that had information about rainbows I instead found a great video on fire rainbows by the weather channel. 

Note: Sorry the link/embed code seems to be broken so it's not going to the fire rainbow video. I'll fix it ASAP (which really means once it's fixed on the weather channel site and I notice... if you Google weather channel and fire rainbows though it's one of the first ones and well worth a watch). 

The video that came up right afterwords was on Solar Flares and Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs), something much closer to what we study with BARREL.

BARREL looks at some of the effects of CMEs and solar flares on our magnetosphere by looking indirectly for particle precipitation due to solar storms. One might compare our measurements to that of a rain gauge, just like a rain gauge estimates how much precipitation occurred during a thunderstorm, we're looking at how much precipitation occurred during a geomagnetic storm.  However, instead of collecting rain drops, we collect x-rays which are a byproduct of electrons hitting our upper atmosphere. The x-ray counts are then a proxy for how many electrons precipitated into the atmosphere.