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.