This summer, I had the opportunity to intern at Goddard Space Flight Center through the Student Internship Program. I worked in the heliophysics branch on the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO) project. STEREO consists of two identical spacecraft in different orbits which observe the Sun and is the third project in NASA’s solar terrestrial probes program. STEREO is able to create 3D images of the Sun and study coronal mass ejections and other solar events.
I worked with the S/WAVES portion of the program, which consists of three orthogonal antennae receiving radio waves at a large range of frequencies. My mentor, Bob MacDowall, works with data analysis. My summer task was to look at data regarding magnetic holes in the solar wind, and see whether Langmuir waves occurred during these events. The solar wind has a somewhat steady magnetic field, but it occasionally simply disappears for a short time period. These events are known as magnetic holes. Langmuir waves are horizontal waves occurring at the electron plasma frequency. There was a conjecture that these waves occurred at the same times as magnetic holes, and my task was to design a system to study this.
I used IDL, Integrated Data Language, to create a program which can be used for this task. The program displays the magnetic hole data, radio frequency data, and radio spectrum. With this display, it is much easier to see the data and recognize magnetic hole events. I spent the first few weeks of the summer learning IDL, and then was able to use the program to design the data display.
The experience I gained this summer with IDL and with the space program in general was very beneficial to me. I learned a lot about the science side of missions, which will be good knowledge to have while working on engineering projects in the future. NASA really does allow their interns to work on real projects, and I enjoyed the opportunity to work at Goddard for the summer.
~FIONA TURETT, WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY IN ST. LOUIS