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Last Post 5/19/2015 11:45 AM by  Kris Sigsbee
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5/17/2015 9:55 PM
    How fun are the experiments, because i'm thinking about being a scientest?
    Tags: MMS, instruments, career, Magnetospheric Multiscale, hypothesis, experiment, rocket launch, Atlas V, Kennedy Space Center

    Claire Raftery

    New Member

    New Member

    5/18/2015 9:32 AM
    Well the nice thing about being a scientist (as opposed to when you're studying to be a one) is that you get to design your own experiments. As an astrophysicist, I don't do experiments in a laboratory with test tubes, with a white coat on, most of my experiments are conducted from my desk. The experiments that you might run as an astronomer would look very different to those of a chemist. The experiments I'm working on usually take many years to run because it's very difficult for me to gather my data, since my laboratory is 150 million miles away (the Sun!). But it can be quite exciting when you can obtain a new piece of data that either helps to answer a question you have, or better yet, when your data might challenge other scientists' assumptions! Other people that I work with at the Space Sciences Lab do more "traditional" experiments. These folks are building instruments (cameras etc) that will fly on a satellite in space. In order to make sure they are "flight ready", they sometimes put them into a big chamber called a vacuum chamber, and suck all the air out. Then the slowly change the temperature in the temperature from +200 degrees to -100 degrees. This is to reproduce the conditions a satellite will experience in space, where there is very little air, and as you fly around the planet, the temperature varies greatly from when you're on the day side (i.e. you can see the Sun) to the night side (when the Sun is behind the earth). Overall, experiments look very very different as you go through your education and career and it will depend on the field that you're interested in.

    KD Leka

    Basic Member

    Basic Member

    5/19/2015 9:50 AM

    Hi - great question!

    One of the challenges with solar astronomy and most of space physics is that unlike a lab for biology or chemistry, we can't just "stick a probe in the star" and take its temperature, or measure its magnetic fields or how much Oxygen it has, for example. But for good science, one needs to set up a "control" - where you don't change anything, to make sure that the effect you're seeing (in, say, adding one chemical to another in a lab) is caused by what you think caused it. So - how do you do that when you cannot actively change things in the stars? I personally find it challenging and a lot of fun to design "experiments" in solar astronomy where we do try and use controls, so that we can really zero in on testing what we want to test. But it's pretty hard - all we have, really, are photons to work with, when it comes down to it. So - the experiments are as fun as we want to make them! :-)

    Kris Sigsbee

    Basic Member

    Basic Member

    5/19/2015 11:45 AM


    The "experiments" I work with are on board satellites orbiting the Earth, so I usually just analyze the data when they are transmitted back to Earth. However, I have had the opportunity to help test electron detectors for a NASA sounding rocket that was launched from Alaska to study the northern lights. To test the electron detectors, I used a vacuum chamber with lots of cool valves, pumps, and gauges. I have also run computer simulations of the Electron Drift Instrument for NASA's Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS). Parts of the Electron Drift Instrument were built by engineers and machinists working in my department, so I got to actually see the detector optics before MMS was launched into space. Working on MMS has been a lot of fun. I went to Florida in March 2015 and was able to see the Atlas V rocket with MMS up close on the launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station about 12 hours before launch. We also were able to watch the launch from the Kennedy Space Center later that night. Seeing something you have worked on get launched into space is pretty neat! Night launches are awesome!

    Here is a video of the MMS launch -


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