Solar REU Intern Projects By Year
Development of a Telescope Design System that Will Allow the User to Quickly Design, Analyze and Specify Telescope Systems for Space Applications
Project Type: Engineering
Skills/Interest Required: Optics, optical alignment, and hands-on testing
Mentors: Mr. Peter Cheimets and Mr. Ed Hertz
SAO is developing a package that will allow an instrument design to quickly compare optical designs at all levels of their functionality. The system will allow the user to predict the performance of the optical system in the environment that it will be used, compare that performance with systems designed with different parameters and, once having selected the final design, fully specify optical system. The project will involve learning about elementary optics, programming (we think in Matlab), and the basics of structural and thermal analysis. This is a challenging project within the class of analysis call Structural/Thermal/OPtical (STOP) Analysis, the end point of which will have large ramifications for how optical instruments are designed.
Investigating Bizarre, Small-scale Explosions Embedded in the Cool Solar Atmosphere
Project Type: Image analysis / Spectroscopic analysis
Skills/Interest Required: Interest in applying statistical methods to and interpreting physical properties from imaging and spectral data produced by space telescopes. Introductory knowledge of the IDL programming language is recommended but not required.
Mentors: Dr. Chad Madsen and Dr. Ed DeLuca
For the past seven years, the Interface Region Imaging Spectrograph (IRIS) has provided astrophysicists a never-before-seen glimpse into the bizarre phenomena of the ultraviolet (UV) Sun. The spacecraft owes its success largely to its unprecedented spatial and temporal resolution, which allows it to simultaneously image and sample spectra from previously unresolved, small-scale, transient phenomena in the solar atmosphere. Among the strangest examples is the UV burst, a phenomenon first described by Peter et al. (2014). UV bursts inhabit magnetically active regions and initially appear as small (< 1 arcsec wide) bright dots with lifetimes on the order of a few minutes; however, spectral data reveals a far more dramatic character. Strong emission lines associated with the hot solar transition region often split into two or three peaks of varying shape and intensity when these bursts occur. These peaks are likely due to energetic bidirectional jets reaching upwards of 200 km s-1, likely arising from a process known as magnetic reconnection. Furthermore, the fact that we see these effects in transition region emission lines such as Si IV 1394 Å suggests that the bursts are composed of plasma with temperatures of at least 80,000 K; however, the presence of strong absorption from cool metals like Fe II and Ni II suggests that these hot explosions are deeply embedded in the coolest layers of the solar atmosphere with plasma temperatures closer to 4,000 K. This means these bursts have the potential to contribute to the dramatic and unexplained heating seen in solar chromosphere and corona. Finally, these bursts can also hold the key to indirectly measuring the magnetic field strength in the solar chromosphere, a notoriously difficult region to observe directly.
The goal of this project is to detect and characterize UV bursts in spectral data from the IRIS spacecraft. In particular, the student will apply an algorithm for detecting UV bursts and then use their sample to diagnose physical properties of chromospheric plasma. Image processing, spectroscopic analysis, data handling, and statistical methods will play key roles in this project, four valuable topics for any aspiring astrophysicist to learn. The student will work closely with two professional scientists on this project, receiving personalized coding and physics instruction when the need arises.
Characterizing Solar Coronal Cavities in Helmet Streamers
Project Type: Data Analysis and Modeling
Skills/Interest Required: Interest in analyzing space- and ground-based imaging data as well as performing numerical modeling. Introductory knowledge of the IDL programming language is recommended, but not required.
Mentor: Dr. Mari Paz Miralles and Dr. Nishu Karna
Email: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org
Helmet streamers, also known as bipolar streamers, are large-scale quasi-static structures in the solar corona. They separate coronal holes of opposite polarities and present a current sheet between the two open-ﬁeld domains. In the lower corona, helmet streamers consist of closed magnetic loop-like arcades that connect to the solar surface. In the outer corona, they extend to a radial stalk that connects to the outflowing solar wind. Understanding the physical characteristics of helmet-streamer cavities can provide key information on the processes involved in their evolution. Therefore, studying the morphology, thermodynamic, and magnetic properties of helmet-streamer cavities may shed light on the stability mechanisms of these large structures.
During the summer the student will: (1) measure the physical parameters of cavities including size, lifetime, density, temperature, and velocity in the corona by using SDO observations of EUV emission and limb synoptic maps; and (2) produce potential field and non-linear force-free field models of a helmet streamer to interpret observations from SDO/AIA, MLSO/KCOR, and STEREO/EUVI. Data and models already exist or have been started by the mentors. This is a great opportunity to become part of a unique, state-of-the-art study.
Collisional Mixing of Solar Wind Plasma during its Journey from the Sun to the Earth
Project Type: Data analysis & forward modeling
Skills/Interest Required: The student will gain experience in scientific computing, such as design and execution of numerical calculations in Python, IDL, Matlab, or similar languages, and in the physics of space plasmas (fluid dynamics, E&M). Prior experience or coursework in these subjects is helpful but not required.
Mentors: Dr. Kristoff Paulson, Dr. Michael Stevens, & The PSP SWEAP Team
The Parker Solar Probe mission is visiting the Sun's corona for the first time and making the first-ever direct measurements of the plasma there. This offers unprecedented observations of solar wind plasma in its nascent form. In its journey from the solar corona to the Earth, the streams that make up solar wind plasmas interact, expand, and evolve in a number of different ways. In past years, some researchers have hypothesized that coulomb collisions -- the simple, binary electrostatic interactions between ions -- dictate many of the thermodynamic properties that distinguish different kinds of solar wind. The experiments on board the PSP spacecraft provide an opportunity to test this well-known collisional hypothesis.
In this project, the student and their mentor will identify solar wind plasma streams measured both by the Parker Solar Probe and by Earth-orbiting spacecraft such as Wind. These multi-point observations will be compared to evaluate the evolution of plasma distributions as they travel across the inner heliosphere. The student will learn about the physics of plasmas in astrophysical environments and the measurement techniques used to explore them. The student will then learn to use numerical methods to model the collisional transport process and the evolution of the solar wind plasma from one spacecraft to the other. The student and their mentors will use this model to test the collisional hypothesis and, as time permits, evaluate modifications to the model.
Analysis of Protons and Alpha Particles in the Solar Wind with Parker Solar Probe
Project Type: Data analysis and modeling
Skills/Interest required: The student will gain experience in scientific computing, such as design and execution of numerical calculations in Python, Matlab, or similar languages, and in the physics of space plasmas (fluid dynamics, E&M). Prior experience or coursework in these subjects is helpful but not required.
Mentors: Dr. Yeimy Rivera, Dr. Tatiana Niembro Hernández, & The PSP SWEAP Team
The Parker Solar Probe is humanity’s first journey into the atmosphere of the Sun.
For this project, the student will analyze observations from the Solar Wind Electrons Alphas and Protons (SWEAP) experiment to characterize streams of charged particles from the Sun, and then use remote observations and state-of-the-art modeling to pinpoint the sources of those streams. The student will then explore how the properties of the solar wind plasma change as it expands into the solar system.
The solar wind is largely made up of both hydrogen and helium ions, which are found in different abundances according to the sources of the plasma. The student will identify periods of higher helium abundance observed by the Solar Probe Cup and perform mathematical fits to quantify the physical properties of this population. Through this work, we will characterize the solar wind to gain insight into its solar birthplace and its evolution as it travels away from the Sun.
Development of a Balloon-borne Coronagraph
Project Type: Hands-on engineering
Skills/Interest Required: Applicants should have an interest in lab instrumentation, a strong math background, and some experience with programming in any language. Familiarity with optics, mechanical design, hardware programming, or MATLAB is a plus.
Mentors: Dr. Jenna Samra and Ms. Vanessa Márquez
The Sun’s corona is notable for its million-degree temperatures and its violent eruptions, but we don’t understand exactly how coronal heating takes place, and we can’t predict precisely when solar activity will occur. Both of these features are controlled by the corona’s magnetic field, which is extremely difficult to measure. At the CfA, we are building a new instrument called CORSAIR to measure the coronal magnetic field with unprecedented sensitivity from a high-altitude balloon. CORSAIR will observe the corona continuously for at least one month from higher than 100,000 feet over Antarctica, making magnetic field measurements that will give us a deeper understanding of the Sun’s outer atmosphere.
The REU student will help with the development of CORSAIR. Possible tasks include designing simple mechanical components, writing software to automate focus mechanisms, and/or defining the optical alignment plan and proving it out with a simple lab prototype.