What a Week for Space!

Hello readers!

They had all sorts of MAVEN stuff up at KSC this weekend – loved it!

Boy was last week a great time to be a space-enthusiast (and a Kennedy Space Center season pass holder)! I hope you’ve all heard of the MAVEN mission that is en route to Mars as of last Monday. It’s a NASA mission that will be studying the evolution of Mars’ climate and atmosphere – Mars Atmospheric Volatile EvolutioN. And because my research interests are the Martian atmosphere, I’m looking forward to seeing what it brings us. But more exciting were last weekend’s festivities down at the Cape. All weekend they had speakers and specialists giving cool presentations about the mission and other aspects of NASA science, and I was there Saturday and Sunday to see it.

My lame tourist photo with Atlantis

Saturday morning I was up bright and early (legitimately early, I’m talking about 6 am) to head down to KSC with the Honors Student Association. I’m not member of HSA (though apparently I’m *technically* an “inactive” member just for being in the honors program), but they let me come just because I’m friends with the whole executive board and my season pass gets them free parking without costing them a dime on admission. So, y’know, it was a win-win. Of course the first thing we did was head over to the Atlantis exhibit, as none of them had seen it yet. It’s still just as breath-taking the second (and third) time around. After that we went over to listen to a NASA speaker, who was the director of astrobiology, give a presentation about MAVEN. It wasn’t super technical, but very cool all the same. The most entertaining part was the group of probably 5 or 6 year old kids who thought they knew the answers to all of her questions: “Why are we interested in studying Mars?” “Because it’s so hot? Because it’s the only planet without life?” Kids these days, am I right? (I assure you, my children will be completely educated about the universe and its workings before they are even toilet-trained.) They also kept asking about the astronauts on the MAVEN mission; I suppose “un-manned” just doesn’t make sense at that age. But I digress. After the talk I went over to speak with NASA’s director of astrobiology, because I never pass up the opportunity to schmooze a NASA employee. We chatted a bit and I expressed my interest in Martian science, and she gave me the name of somebody to contact asking about possible internships. No word back yet, but she’s probably pretty busy with the launch and stuff. We’ll see I suppose…..

Beautiful photo I took of the rocket garden at sunset.

Bill Nye the Science Guy in the flesh! Bow-tie and all.

Sunday afternoon I was right back down at the Cape to see their featured speaker, who was none other than…. Bill Nye the Science Guy! He gave a fantastic talk about why space exploration is important. Which was really cool to see in person, considering my American public schooling in science consisted pretty heavily of his show (I know you all can relate! Or at least those of you in the USA – my boyfriend, from India, didn’t even know who he was! :O) It was another great day at the Space Center, aside from my car almost running out of oil for some reason and having to stop at a Sunoco in the middle of nowhere to put three quarts in. And trust me, I can tell you the physics of how an engine works, but I certainly don’t know my way around one!

We couldn’t see him super well from where we were sitting so mostly watched the screen. Still cool!

MAVEN’s smoke trail in the sky, seen from near campus.

Monday was the big day – the launch! Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to go down to the Cape to watch, but I did go out to the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse that is about half an hour from campus to try and see. We had a clear view of the coastline where it launched from, but unfortunately it was too cloudy to see it take off. It was okay though, because I had a live video feed on my iPhone that way cooler than watching a bright dot in the sky. And when the clouds moved out we were able to see the smoke trail it left behind. MAVEN has been on its way for about a week now, with only 9 months and 2 weeks left to go until it arrives!

I really did take this with my iPhone. Beautiful, isn’t it?

Oh, I forgot to mention, as if spending the day at KSC and seeing Bill Nye on Sunday wasn’t cool enough, I got to spend some time on the university’s telescope to do some moon observations for my astronomy class. It was exactly the night of the full moon, and what a sight it is through a telescope! By the way, if anybody tells you that you can’t take pictures by holding your iPhone camera up to the eyepiece of the telescope, they are very, very wrong. I took what are probably the coolest photos ever taken with an iPhone camera, hands down. I’m very excited to get our new telescope next semester, which will be the largest in the state of Florida! Hear that, prospective students? If you’re interested in space, ERAU is definitely the place to be. :) See below for some up close photos of the moon’s surface, taken by an iPhone camera….

 

 

Well, the semester’s winding down faster than I expected. Last week I spent a lot of time working on homework and projects, hoping to have some time to relax over Thanksgiving. I’m getting on a plane Tuesday afternoon to head back up to Minneapolis for the break (unfortunately there’s no snow to greet me). Which fell at a terrible time this year, because we get back next Monday and that’s the last week of classes! I’ll probably be working most of the break, since I still have some final projects to finish up and exams to study for.

My gorgeous new space book :)

I almost forgot – this week was also the 15th birthday of the International Space Station. And Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. It was definitely a big week for space! Also, I won a really awesome space book in a raffle at Cookies & Craic (a bimonthly get-together for the ERAU Physics department, where you get to eat free cookies and chat with faculty and students.) It is leather bound and has gold page edges and a cloth bookmark and beautiful color photos. I love it. :) Also, NASA has started posting summer internships, and there is a planetary science position posted for Ames Research Center that I really really want. So pray to whatever deity you worship and cross all your fingers for me to get that – thanks!

Beautiful on the inside too

That’s all for now folks, tune in next week for my exciting recollection of Thanksgiving break and final project panic mode! Because I just wouldn’t be a proper college student without the latter.

And email me! I promise I don’t bite. SchroeL2@my.erau.edu

-Lynsey

The Exciting Life of a Physics Student

Hello hello!

Time is sure flying, I can’t believe it’s been another two weeks. But I suppose I’ll pick up right where I left off in writing my life’s story. So here it goes…

A plot, similar to the one in my last entry, showing altitude above sea level and the corresponding vertical wind speed. This one is for Olympus Mons on Mars! Notice that the wind speed is about 10X higher, which makes sense because the mountain is a lot bigger.

Let me start off by pointing out the terrible error in my last post – my Mars map was upside down! I noticed it while working on my model in MATLAB. Major oops on that one. But I will say that it is now fixed, and the model is working beautifully. I was able to plot the vertical wind speed across Olympus Mons (which, as you recall from my earlier entries, is the largest volcano in the solar system at a height of about 26 km), and our next step is to implement these calculations in the atmospheric dynamics model to simulate some waves! If that sentence didn’t make sense to you, go back and read some of my past entries where I explain the basics of my research.

My CORRECT Martian topographic map generated in MATLAB. This time I used the copper color bar option, because the blue was a bit misleading. Lighter is higher elevation, and darker is lower elevation.

Speaking of physics and research and all that jazz, I’m getting pretty excited for the new College of Arts and Sciences building! They’ve named our new lab – it will be called ECLAIR:  Experimental and Computational Laboratory for Atmospheric and Ionospheric Research. Which is apparently French for “flash of lightning”, in addition to being a delicious French pastry. So for atmospheric scientists who are also partial to pastries, it seemed like a good fit. I will be presenting a poster about the new lab to the board of trustees on November 1st, which means I get to be one of the first people to stand inside the new building! Plus I get to wear a suit, and I always feel snazzy in a suit.

The new building seems like a good segway to my next topic – registering for next semester classes. Ah! It seems like this semester just started, and we’re already getting ready to register. My schedule for the spring seems pretty chill time-wise (only a couple classes on MWF, and a decent break on TTh) – I should note that, once you get to upper-level EP classes you start to lose control of making your own schedule. Every class I’m taking only has one section, and I lucked out in not having to take any 8:15s! Nonetheless, I’ll be taking five 300-level EP classes (Classical Mechanics, Optics, Microcomputers, Space Systems Engineering, and Junior Design); I saw my advisor today, and I quote… Me: “I just want to make sure next semester won’t kill me.” Him: “Oh it will.” Well then. I suppose it evens out for the fact that the classes will be really cool.

I also have to start thinking about a thesis topic, and man that feels so far off. I will probably continue to pursue my Martian atmospheric research, unless something else nifty catches my attention.

You never really get too old for Pokemon.

Now for those of you readers who are geeks like me, you’re probably wondering if I’m going to mention last weekend’s big release – Pokemon X and Y! Yes, I am, because that’s all I did this weekend. I bought a shiny new (used, but it’s new to me) 3DS – which is amazing technology might I add; I was skeptical – and picked up my copy of Y. I definitely have to give this game five stars, it’s completely revolutionized the franchise. And if you’re wondering, my entire team is named after moons, constellations, and space missions (Apollo, Aries, Triton, Phobos, Deimos, and Orion) because that’s just how I roll. I also found a shiny in the wild. If you don’t know what that means, just keep scrolling.

This weekend is fall break! Which is much needed. I’m planning to sleep, play Pokemon, sleep some more, watch Breaking Bad, and maybe plan a trip down to Kennedy Space Center if the government decides to run again. I should note that, while KSC is privately owned and operated and therefore still open during the shutdown, none of its tours run since it’s a government facility that’s being toured, and what’s the fun if you can’t see the cool space buildings?

This was posted on the Embry-Riddle Memes page the day of the career fair, with 298 “likes” and 33 “shares”. It made me lol.

Speaking of the government shut down, the career fair was last Wednesday (yes, that transition was completely relevant, just wait.) NASA wasn’t there obviously, which made me very very sad. I even stood next to their empty booth for a while hoping they’d magically appear and give me a job. They didn’t. BUT I did have a really good chat with a woman from Northrop-Grumman who seemed to really want to hire me. She had the same first name, so total ice-breaker, and asked me for two copies of my resume – one for the pile and one to take with her. So I’m expecting a phone call any day now, she practically promised -fingers crossed-. I also talked to some other small space companies that seemed really cool, and they seemed promising as well. Boeing seemed unimpressed, but they can keep their airplanes, I’m not interested.

And I almost forgot to mention Gravity! The movie, not the force. Go see it. Right now. It was so awesome. We went to the very first showing at 10 pm on Thursday night and saw it in 3D. Wow. That’s all I have to say about that. Granted the physics is a bit off in some places, but the amount of things they did right and the fact that the movie is simply incredible makes breaking physics worth it – and that’s coming from a physicist. (Plus, Sandra Bullock as an astronaut? You don’t want to miss that.)

Let’s see what else is going on… I suffered through an assignment for EP 501 that I think took 20-25 hours of work. It was four problems, and it took that long. What. I decided I don’t like grad school. Also, I had to go get a shot the other day, which, if you know me, you know is a big deal. I’m planning a trip to India this summer, so it’s probably worth it, but still – wah! Also also, the Indian restaurant here in Daytona that I go to about once a week got a new chef, and he makes my usual different and I’m sad. It’s not bad, it’s just not my usual anymore, y’know? (Have you ever noticed that the last paragraph of my blog entries are just the most random things I can think to mention?)

Will Northrop-Grumman ever call? What will happen with my Martian vertical forcing model? How much will I sleep during fall break? Get these exciting answers and more next time!

-Lynsey

More Mapping – Mars! And Other Stuff

Hello hello!

I’m starting to run out of creative ways to start these entries. So let’s just dive right in, shall we?

Because I can.

Midterm season is upon us, and I’m pretty sure I escaped the first round unscathed. I had three exams in two days last week: Astronomy, Spaceflight Dynamics, and of course my open-everything Thermodynamics midterm. Which was pretty cool. Any exam that lets me google the answers on my cell phone is a winner in my book (in my defense, I knew the material and didn’t actually google anything.) For my astronomy exam I made 158 flashcards and studied like mad – it was weird for me to have an exam where you just had to know things and not do math. Haven’t had one of those for a while. Though my Software Engineering process exam on Monday will be like that – 12 essay questions, 3 hour midterm. Gotta love grad school….

A plot showing altitude above sea level and the corresponding vertical wind speed. This is for a location in the Andes Mountains, at 31.8º S latitude.

Enough about all that stuff, I have way more exciting things to talk about, such as my mastery of MATLAB’s mapping toolbox. Guys… I made Mars. I didn’t think it was even possible, but I actually got it to work! (Which is especially impressive considering I did so without access to any NASA databases – #penny4nasa) I managed to generate a full-world topographic plot of the Martian surface. I also finished a model which takes surface topography (mountains, etc.) and calculates the vertical wind forcing based on horizontal wind. It works on Earth, so now it’s time to see if we can get a plot for the area over Olympus Mons! This data is useful because vertical wind forcing generates gravity waves, if you remember that information from my first couple entries.

So as you can see I’ve been pretty busy (and successful, I might add) in classes and SPRL lately. Which is great – I will likely get to be a second author on a published paper! For my vertical wind forcing model; I’m super excited, and glad that I’m starting to make headway into real research.

MATLAB plot of Mars Topography! And no, the blue isn’t water – it’s just colorized based on altitude. Green is approx. sea level, blue is lower, and yellow is higher.

My boyfriend and I with The Pretty Reckless at the VIP meet and greet. Doing our best rock concert faces. (We are the two on the ends)

Besides doing awesome physics stuff and making bajillions of flashcards, I’ve been doing some fun stuff too. I got to go to another rock concert (it’s been a really good year, all my favorite bands are touring!) The band is called The Pretty Reckless, and if you haven’t heard of them I suggest you go check them out. They played at a little club in downtown Orlando called The Social, which was really great because it was such a small venue, I could literally reach out and grab the guy’s guitar if I had wanted to. And we had VIP passes so we got to do a meet and greet afterwards with the band!

The openers were great too, the first was Louna, and they are a band from Russia. In fact this is the first time in 20 years that a full Russian rock band is touring in the US. The second band was Heaven’s Basement from the UK; they were crazy. At one point the singer tried to do the thing where they walk out on the fans’ hands, and the security guy yelled and ran over and tried to pull him back by the ankles. Then he ran into the pit, grabbed him, threw him over his shoulder, and brought him back on stage. There was like a tug of war of this guy between the guard and the fans. I guess that club doesn’t allow crowd-walking. The singer was just in awe, it was hilarious.

Doing my #RLShrimpStache for Endless Shrimp. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m kinda crazy.

Other than that everything is about the same as it was last time I wrote. Still working my way though Breaking Bad (and trying to avoid spoilers!), enjoying my Pumpkin Pecan Waffles candle, and eating lots of shrimp at Red Lobster – we made sure to hit up Endless Shrimp one last time on Sunday (its last day). I’ve also been doing some scrapbooking… I’ll post some photos next week after I buy more photo corners.

Another cool thing to mention is that I was invited to join Tau Beta Pi, which is the National Engineering Honor Society. As a physics student and a member of the College of Arts and Sciences rather than College of Engineering, I didn’t think they would want me, but I suppose having “engineering” in the name of my major was good enough!

For my closing statement, I’m going to mention that I’m super bummed about NASA being all closed and stuff. So let’s hope the government gets rolling again so that they can get back to work! I’m really hoping their MAVEN mission to Mars doesn’t get affected too much. That launch is scheduled for November 18th and the window extends until December 7th – if they miss it, they can’t launch again for over two years! It’s really a bummer when the sciences get caught up in politics.

That’s all folks – until next time!

-Lynsey

Simulating Giant Sound Waves on Mars

Hello, again!

It’s time for another installment of “a day in the life of an awesome physics student at Embry-Riddle.”

Well the summer is in full swing; I had my first exam on Thursday, which was also my first exam of grad school, as the class I’m taking is my first master’s class for the accelerated degree. I was really confident, which means I either aced the exam or bombed it – you never really know until you get your results back. I’ve never taken summer classes before, but so far I think it’s pretty awesome. The material moves at a quick yet manageable pace, and it’s nice to only have one class to worry about after the last four semesters of 16-17 credits. My only complaint about summer classes is the “summer” part – why is it so hot outside? It’s unnatural. I really wasn’t born to live in the south; I can handle a -20º wind-chill, but as soon as the thermometer climbs above 90º that’s when I give up and hide inside. Not to mention it rains so much! (I promise I won’t complain about the weather in every entry.)

I’ve had a lot of free time, which is unusual for me, so it’s been nice. Lately I’ve been learning some new acoustic guitar songs, watching old seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and leveling a blood elf warlock. And let me just take a moment to talk about how much I love living in my own apartment off campus. Everything is finally clean, unpacked, and decorated to my liking, and I can listen to loud music in any room at any time and nobody complains about my volume, musical tastes, or singing. It’s great. I live only two minutes from campus, so it’s a nice, short commute every day. Once I figure out how to reduce my electric bill everything will be perfect!

Image of Mars’ Gale Crater from Google Earth. This location was used to generate the profile used in our acoustic wave simulations. Gale Crater was the landing site of NASA’s Curiosity rover, which landed last year.

My days are spent sitting up in the Lehman Building’s Space Physics Research Lab (which will henceforth be referred to as “SPRL”) working on my project for the CEDAR conference in late-June. I mentioned it briefly in the last entry, but I think I should elaborate, since that’s what got me this gig as a blogger. CEDAR (which stands for “Coupling, Energetics, and Dynamics of Atmospheric regions”) is an NSF-sponsered yearly atmospheric sciences meeting that focuses on instrumentation and modeling of the middle and upper atmosphere. I am working with Dr. Snively in the Department of Physical Sciences to adapt his atmospheric wave model to Martian conditions so that we can see how atmospheric acoustic and gravity waves, which are a bit like ocean waves, but in the atmosphere, propagate on Mars in comparison to Earth (if you’re interested, my project abstract is here).

Some plots of relevant atmospheric data on Mars generated by the profile used in our simulations.

We are using MarsGRAM (Mars Global Reference Atomic Model) data provided by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to specify many different properties of the atmosphere, which has proven very interesting! This data is then used to generate a profile, which essentially shows the temperature, density, pressure, etc. as you travel up through the atmosphere (it’s really just a big table of numbers), and then the profile is loaded into the wave dynamics model. The model produces a simulation based on some inputs, such as frequency, amplitude, etc., and we watch how the wave behaves as it moves upward.

Animation of a nonlinear acoustic wave traveling up through the Martian atmosphere. The one-dimensional simulation is laid over the two-dimensional simulation in order to determine that the results of each are valid. This wave has a frequency of 0.032 Hz, which corresponds to a wavelength of about 31 km. (Click on thumbnail to watch animation.) Note that the axes correspond to the 2-D results (and are in meters – please disregard the error in the labeling.)

This past week we successfully simulated an acoustic wave in both a one-dimensional and two-dimensional model and confirmed that the results agreed. Acoustic waves are really cool – they are essentially giant sound waves that move up through the atmosphere until the air becomes too sparse and viscous, causing them to dissipate. We’ve found that this happens really quickly on Mars compared to Earth, due to the increasing viscosity at higher altitudes. The waves we have been simulating have frequencies of about 0.03 Hz. For perspective, note that the average human can hear frequencies ranging from 20-20,000 Hz, so these waves are much larger and lower-frequency than ordinary sound waves.

The next phase of the project is to simulate two-dimensional gravity waves, which I will talk about in my next entry!

Before I close out this entry, I wanted to touch back on what I said last time about going where life takes you. I came into Riddle as an Aerospace Engineering student, but was converted to Engineering Physics after my first semester due to the fact that I love physics and space and don’t really care about designing airplanes (blasphemy, I know.) Deep down I definitely feel like an EP student, and never once regret my change. In fact, the more I go through my coursework, the more I find myself leaning towards physics and research and away from actual engineering – I took the “gauntlet” (solids, dynamics, and fluids, which are engineering sciences classes you take your sophomore year), and pretty much hated them (though I did like fluids, but that was because professor Davids is awesome!) Plus I am loving what I am doing here in SPRL. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’m going to do after Riddle, and, while my plan had always been BS then MS then Work in engineering then PhD maybe later, I am thinking more about going straight onto my PhD and getting involved in space and astrophysics research.

Tune in next week, I’ll have some really cool Mars stuff to share with y’all! (Yeah, I’m becoming a southerner. I say that now.) Be sure to email me if there’s anything you’d like me to write about Riddle, otherwise I’ll just keep rambling on about my life in every entry.

-Lynsey
schroel2@my.erau.edu