Far too long…
February 19, 2011 2 Comments
Hello all, sorry it’s been so long since my last post, but things have been busy. First off, since this blog is primarily about my attempt to become an astronaut, I want to be sure to update you guys on the major developments as I go through grad school and work towards my PhD. So at the end of January, I officially passed my comprehensive exams, the first (and biggest) hurdle that one needs to get over in a Physics PhD program. At UNH, the exam is ten hours split over two days and covers five sections of undergraduate-level physics: Electricity & Magnetism, Classical Mechanics, Thermodynamics, Quantum Mechanics, and Modern Physics. Now, you non-physics inclined people are probably gagging at the thought of such an exam right now. Believe me, I like physics and I felt that way about it. But luckily, with a lot of studying and a good amount of luck, I was able to pass and move on in my grad school career. I also made another important step in grad school: picking a research advisor and group to do my research with. I’m going to be working with Dr. Marc Lessard in the Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Research Lab doing sounding rocket observations of Earth’s aurora. Basically, I’m going to get the chance to travel to places even colder than New Hampshire (Alaska and Norway) and launch rockets with scientific instruments through the aurora so we can take measurements of how the atmosphere reacts to the phenomenon. I really excited about the way things have worked out already at UNH. In addition to getting hardware experience building the instruments for the rocket (improving my engineering skill which I feel astronauts generally need), I’m also getting to work with aurora, which is what I focused my undergraduate research on. So yeah, things are looking good.
Now, about the world at large. Two scientists from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette have used numerical models to predict that a planet four-times larger than Jupiter could be living out at the very limits of our solar system in a region known as the Oort Cloud. The Oort Cloud is a spherical shell of cometary bodies believed to surround the sun far beyond the orbit of Pluto. Astrophysicists John Matese and Daniel Whitmire believe that gravity from this proposed planet, dubbed “Tyche”, could explain the odd orbital motions of comets. I’m still a bit skeptical about this research (as are many other astronomers), but Matese and Whitmire are looking for observational proof to confirm the planet’s existence. In a bit of an historical aside, it was numerical inaccuracies in the calculation of Uranus’ orbit in the late 18th century that led to the belief that there were planets beyond it and the eventual discovery of Neptune and Pluto. However, after those planets were discovered, scientists realized that their calculations of Uranus’ orbit had been wrong and the math didn’t say there had to be planets beyond it (the mistake was fortunate for Neptune and Pluto though!)