A return and departure…

Hello all, welcome to 2012 and back to The Sky’s the Limit. Without much ado, let’s get things rolling with some very cool new updates.

  • RESEARCH UPDATE: My research has been going along quite swimmingly. Loyal readers will remember back in the summer when I posted about receiving a research fellowship from NASA. This summer, as a part of that project, I began building an instrument for the Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Coupling in the Alfvén resonator (MICA) sounding rocket mission. The instrument, called an Electron Retarding Potential Analyzer (ERPA), is what’s known as a “top hat” electrostatic analyzer. This means, the ERPA uses electric fields to attract/guide electrons into the detector and measure their energy. Acquiring an energy distribution of a population of particles, in this case electrons, gives us a temperature. Electron temperature is just one small part of the in situmeasurements the MICA rocket will make as it flies through the aurora over Alaska. Below are some pictures of the ERPAs as they were being built.[gallery, exclude=”489,488,487″ columns=”2″]

    The ERPAs were then shipped down to Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia for testing and integration with the rest of the MICA payload’s instruments. They’re now be shipped to Alaska for launch. Yes, that’s right I said Alaska, where I will be heading next week for launch myself. The rocket will be launched from Poker Flat Rocket Range, just outside Fairbanks, where I’ll spend a week preparing the ERPAs for launch before I fly up to Fork Yukon (see map below) where I’ll take images of the aurora from the ground as the rocket flies through it.

Map of Alaska showing where I’ll be during the MICA launch. Poker Flat is right in the middle of the state, just northeast of the city of Fairbanks. I’ll then fly to Fort Yukon, about 100 miles north.

  • At the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union (which is oddly always held in December) out in San Francisco, I had the pleasure of meeting two very cool people. The first was UNH Alumnus and current NASA researcher C. Alex Young, who has created a very cool website called The Sun Today which offers facts about the Sun, updates on solar weather, and a whole lot more stellar media and information (sorry for the pun). You should check out the website and visit the Facebook page for more info. The second person I met was a very awesome little gal named Camilla. Camilla is a chicken that works for NASA. In fact, Camilla is a chicken that is training to become an astronaut. As part of the public eduction and outreach for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), Camilla has joined the Astronaut Training Program and is quickly on her way into space. For more information about Camilla and the exciting stuff she’s up to, you can check out her Facebook page or her about.me website. I even got a picture with her!

Here’s me and Camilla hanging at a restaurant in San Francisco. I was obviously way more excited about this introduction than she was…

      Gong Xi Fa Ca! Happy Chinese New Year. It is the Year of the Dragon, the most powerful of the Chinese zodiac.
      A month in the Chinese calendar spans a single lunar cycle. The first day of the month begins during the new moon, when no sunlight falls on the lunar hemisphere that faces the Earth. A lunar cycle, on average, lasts 29.5 days, so a lunar month can last 29 or 30 days. Usually, there are 12 lunar months in a Chinese calendar year. In order to catch up with the solar calendar, which averages 365.25 days in a year, an extra month is added to the Chinese calendar every two or three years. As a result, Chinese New Year falls on different dates each year (in the Gregorian calendar) between January 21 and February 21.
     Each year of the Chinese lunar calendar is represented by one of twelve animal symbols of the Chinese zodiac: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Boar. For 2012, it’s the dragon’s turn. According to Chinese astrology, people born on the year of the dragon are said to be strong, self-assured, eccentric, intellectual, and passionate, among other things.Chinese New Year celebrations traditionally lasts 15 days, from the first day (during a new moon) to the 15th day (a full moon). Each day holds a special significance that varies according to local traditions. 

This amazing image from the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) shows a fierce (slightly enhanced) coronal mass ejection (CME)- a blob of super hot and super energetic particles- blasting off the surface of the Sun. Credit: Henry Roll, Bellvue, PA

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