Hello, and welcome to the next installment of “I’m having the best summer ever and you’re jealous!”
The third week of my internship at SETI was spent up north at Hat Creek Radio Observatory and Lassen National Park, about six hours away by van. That was quite the adventure. Of course one of the strangest things about being on a radio observatory is that you’re not allowed to turn on your cell phone! The wireless signal interferes with the collection of data from the telescopes (that means no WiFi either – luckily we had ethernet in the cabins) so it was airplane mode all week. Which, in this day and age, was a much bigger deal than it seems. Have you ever noticed that if you get into arguments, you just google and find the answer? Try having that taken away from you – it’s really a culture shock.
One of the coolest thing about being out in the middle of nowhere was the sky. You could see so many stars, satellites flying past, and even the Milky Way! We spent the whole first night just laying outside and looking up. It was breathtaking.
The first two days at Hat Creek were spent learning about the observatory and doing some neat experiments with the telescopes. It was very cool to be sitting in SETI’s radio observatory and listening to Dr. Jill Tarter and Dr. Gerry Harp talk about their search for extraterrestrial radio signals. Oh, and we got to watch Contact with Dr. Tarter, which, if you weren’t aware, is pretty much based on her. I get serious bragging rights for that in the science community. She told us neat things, like which characters were based on real people and where the scientific inaccuracies were.
Our third day was spent at Lassen Volcanic National Park where we hiked the cinder cone to learn some geology. And I should emphasize, I hiked to the top of the cinder cone! If you’ve never seen a cinder cone, it’s basically a steep mountain where the entire surface is made of loose gravel – for every step up you lose about half of it just sliding back down. It was a major accomplishment for me, and the view at the top was totally worth it.
We learned some neat things about volcanos, rocks, and how much water you should drink when hiking in 105 degree sunlight. Hiking really is rocket science: the more water you bring, the heavier your bag becomes, meaning it’s more work and you need to bring more water. Sound familiar, aerospace engineers? After the cinder cone we walked through Subway Cave, which is a big lava tube. It was amazing how quickly the temperature dropped about 50 degrees as we walked down into the cave. And man was it DARK without headlamps.
Thursday we were back at Lassen where we hiked at Bumpass Hell – named after a guy who decided to stray from the trail, causing him to fall into the hot sulfur pits and lose his limbs, oops – which is a lot like Yellowstone, if you’ve ever been. We learned about bacteria that can survive in those harsh conditions, and how that relates to astrobiology. It was a very cool landscape, albeit kinda stinky.
Friday we went up to Burney Falls, where we spent most of the day out on the lake. We rented a kayak and a patio boat, and had a nice, relaxing day that didn’t involve much hiking or climbing of mountains. It was a good end to the trip before we all piled back into the vans Saturday morning.
But the fun didn’t end there! Since we couldn’t take the vans back until Monday anyway, we spent all day Sunday at a few destinations along the California coast. The morning was spent at a state park with some giant redwoods, and the afternoon on a few different beaches. The beaches here are a lot different than the ones in Daytona – it was July and I was in a jacket! Very brisk wind, and a lot more rock than sand. So if you’re looking for a nice tropical paradise to relax and get a tan, definitely stick to Florida. All in all, it was a really great trip, and we got to know each other really well. Definitely a good bonding experience for the beginning of an internship.
The weekend after Lassen my boyfriend flew in to visit, so I had to be a good host and take him sightseeing. The thing I love most about California is that there’s so many different things to do! Friday night we went to see the San Jose Earthquakes soccer game (by the way, Orlando’s getting an MLS team next season!) after spending the evening checking out some neat little shops and restaurants in downtown Sunnyvale. Saturday we ate crepes in downtown Mountain View, watched the world cup third place game, and then took the train up to San Francisco for the rest of the day.
First stop in SF – Ghirardelli Square! Where you can sit on the bay and have a giant $10 ice cream sundae that is worth every penny. We then walked over to Fisherman’s Warf, where we took a boat tour around the bay at dusk. That was really cool – we got right up close to Alcatraz, but my phone died so I don’t have photos. :( The rest of the evening was spent walking around the Warf and popping into all the neat little shops – and then realizing we were late to catch the last train out of the city! Don’t worry, we made it.
So as you can see, the fun never stops when you’re a professional alien hunter in California. We’ve also had a lot of awesome colloquium speakers both at SETI and at NASA Ames. My favorite has been Dr. Robert Zubrin’s presentation on colonizing Mars. As far as actually doing the internship part (it seems more like summer camp here than work!) my research project is coming along nicely, which has essentially just been writing a lot of Fortran code. I’ve made a lot of progress on the model, so with four weeks left I’m hoping to be able to produce some very cool results. I have the possibility of presenting my research at the AGU conference in December, and, depending on what we find, maybe even being a co-author on a publication! Really crossing my fingers for that.
It’s crazy to think that I’m already past the halfway point of my summer adventure. This has been one of the best experiences of my life, and I’m really going to be sad to leave. My advice to you: do internships! And really check out REU programs, there are a ton of them throughout the country. If you have any questions about applying to programs like that, especially anyone in or considering the Engineering/Space Physics program, do shoot me an email! I’d be happy to share my advice and experience with you. And I would definitely recommend applying here to SETI, if that is your cup of tea. They won’t let us come back for a second year (unfortunately!), so I can say that without having to worry about having you as competition. ;)
Until next time!