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REU Projects for Summer 2019
at MIT Haystack Observatory

  1. Observing Black Holes with the Event Horizon Telescope
  2. High-quality imaging of relativistic jets from super-massive black holes
  3. Regional Anomalies in Ionospheric Electron Density
  4. LEGO: Using Dark Clouds in the Milky Way to understand Distant Galaxies
  5. Automatic processing of seismic, geodetic, and geophysics data from an Antarctic Ice Penetrator instrument
  6. Estimating high-resolution wind fields of the upper atmosphere using meteors
  7. Experiment to Detect the Global EoR Signature (EDGES-3)
  8. Scientific and Technical Studies for the AERO Cubesat Mission


  1. Observing Black Holes with the Event Horizon Telescope
  2. Mentors:  
    Vincent Fish []
    Kazunori Akiyama []
    Kotaro Moriyama
    image Student Qualifications:  This project is well suited to a student with a background in basic physics and astronomy.  Experience in computer programming or a high-level scientific analysis package is desirable.
    Project Description:   The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) is an array of millimeter-wavelength facilities that observe the nearest supermassive black holes using the technique of very long baseline interferometry. The EHT is uniquely capable of resolving structures on angular scales of a few Schwarzschild radii around the black holes in the Galactic Center (Sgr A*) and the nearby giant elliptical galaxy Virgo A (M87). The goals of the EHT include testing general relativity and furthering our understanding of the astrophysics of accretion and outflow processes around black holes.

    EHT observations of Sgr A* and M87 in recent years have been resolving the event horizon-scale structure and used to establish that both sources have an event horizon. Sgr A* data have been used to constrain the inclination of the accretion disk, to set a limit on the spin of the black hole, and to verify that the mechanism of variability occurs at the inner edge of the accretion flow and associated jet. In the REU program, we will investigate (i) a potential extension of the EHT to obtain further higher quality images of Sgr A* and M87 and (ii) develop new techniques to constrain the black hole spacetime around Sgr A* using the EHT data.

  3. High-quality imaging of relativistic jets from super-massive black holes
  4. Mentor:  
    Kazunori Akiyama []
    Colin Lonsdale []
    Student Qualifications: This project is well suited to a student with a background in basic physics and astronomy or computational science. Experience in computer programming or a high-level scientific analysis package is desirable.

    Project Description: The relativistic jets emanating from super-massive black holes at the centers of many galaxies are among the most energetic persistent phenomena in the Universe. Their formation mechanism and role in cosmological co-evolution with their host galaxies are a topic of active investigation in modern astronomy and astrophysics. High-quality, high-resolution imaging of such relativistic jets is critical to understanding their detailed structure and underlying physical nature.

    Haystack Observatory has been developing new imaging techniques for radio interferometry, driven by the needs of the Event Horizon Telescope project. The techniques have been shown to outperform traditional approaches and can be widely applied to radio interferometric data of relativistic jets. In this REU project, we will study some intriguing relativistic jet sources using recent high-quality observations and will apply the new imaging techniques to different datasets.

  5. Regional anomalies in ionospheric electron density
  6. Mentor:  
    Larisa Goncharenko []
    Student Qualifications: This project is suitable for a student with interest in physics/geophysics/applied mathematics/ computer science. Programming skills in MATLAB, IDL and/or Python are beneficial.

    Project Description: This research project focuses on identifying and understanding the reasons for anomalies in ionospheric electron density (100-1000 km above ground). Recent studies have demonstrated that unexpectedly large differences in the ionospheric electron density can exist for locations that are separated only by 10-20 degrees in longitude, in particular during strong meteorological disturbances. These regional anomalies in the ionospheric electron density could be associated with disturbances in thermospheric composition and/or thermospheric wind system. However, such ionospheric anomalies are not well known and not documented, and reasons for these anomalies are generally not known.

    This project will use long-term datasets collected by several ionosondes located at middle latitudes, as well as observations from GNSS Total Electron Content (TEC) receivers to identify time periods and regional extent of anomalous variations in ionospheric electron density. The project will use already available empirical models of TEC and peak electron density to characterize expected ionospheric behavior. As part of the project, the student will generate a database of differences between empirical models and observations, investigate variations of differences with season and local time, and identify large data-model anomalies. The project will than focus on the analysis of several selected anomalies in order to understand potential connections with thermospheric composition. Depending on the progress, the student can get involved in further development of empirical ionospheric models.

  7. LEGO: Using Dark Clouds in the Milky Way to understand Distant Galaxies
  8. Mentors:  
    Jens Kauffmann []
    Student Qualifications: Willingness to learn the Python programming language, ideally demonstrated by previous programming work in some language.
    Project Description: It is hard to study fine details even in the most nearby galaxies. To give an example, some of the most exciting research today focuses on the formation of stars in the Milky Way and other galaxies. The star¿forming sites in the Milky Way, also known as dark clouds, can be studied at an amazing level of detail. We can actually see how individual stars and planets form in our neighborhood. However, if we turn to galaxies, even the best telescopes available today cannot resolve dark clouds at a meaningful level of detail. Astronomers have therefore developed tricks to study the structure of clouds they cannot resolve. They study radiation from a variety of molecules, e.g. hoping that some molecules provide clues on dense gas while others might indicate that a dark cloud is being stirred up by embedded young stars. These are fascinating methods ¿ but they have never been tested in the Milky Way. The LEGO survey therefore images dark clouds in the Milky Way to perform such tests. This teaches us lessons about star formation in the Milky Way and other galaxies.

    As part of this program, you will lead a small original research project that uses LEGO data. You will learn how to visualize and analyze the data from several astronomical observatories, and how to draw conclusions from the trends in the data. You will do this as a member in an international collaboration that includes researchers from the US, the EU, Chile, and Japan. Successful projects are expected to produce results that will be published as parts of the LEGO papers.

  9. Automatic processing of seismic, geodetic, and geophysics data from an Antarctic Ice Penetrator instrument
  10. Mentors:  
    Dhiman Mondal]
    Pedro Elosegui []
    John Barrett]
    Student Qualifications: Geophysics, Physics, Mathematics, Electrical Engineering or a related science/engineering field with an interest in computer systems, seismology, and geodesy. Basic knowledge of embedded computers and Linux. Knowledge of Python and/or MATLAB. Passionate about scientific programming and polar science.
    Project Description: The student will architect and develop a software package to process seismic and geodetic data to study the physical state of the Antarctic cryosphere. The data will be collected by a SeismoGeodetic Ice Penetrator (SGIP) instrument and downloaded via satellite communications in near-real time after its expected Antarctic deployment in 2020. SGIP sensors include a geophysics-grade broadband seismometer, a geodetic-quality GPS receiver, and various meteorological and engineering parameters. In the course of this internship, the student will be trained with existing seismic and geodetic data from Antarctica that can be downloaded from public data servers, and will learn how to process and manipulate the data using publicly available computer packages and/or self-developed computer programs. The data analysis includes, but is not limited to, handling miniSEED seismic data, RINEX GPS data, and satellite imagery such as MODIS. The ultimate goal of the project is to build a science software package that can process SGIP data automatically, generating data products and visualization tools relevant to Antarctic cryospheric science.

  11. Estimating high-resolution wind fields of the upper atmosphere using meteors
  12. Mentors:  
    Ryan Volz []
    Student Qualifications: Strong programming skills and experience with (or desire to learn) Python. Other technical strengths or interests are welcome and will influence the specific direction of the project.
    Project Description: Annual meteor showers are familiar to many from the increased frequency of visible "shooting stars", but few people are aware that the Earth's atmosphere is constantly being bombarded by dust-sized micro-meteoroids. These do not create visible meteors, but they are observable through radio scattering with a moderately-sized radar. Moreover, specular meteor trails provide a plentiful, natural tracer of upper-atmospheric winds through measurement of the line-of-sight Doppler shift of the reflected radio signal. Meteors occur sporadically in time and space, so they provide plentiful random samples of atmospheric wind and temperature that are hard to come by through any other means. Filling this gap in our observational knowledge is important for improving atmospheric models and studying coupling between the space environment, ionosphere, and atmosphere.

    In collaboration with colleagues at the Institute of Atmospheric Physics in Kühlungsborn, Germany, we have recently developed and tested new MIMO techniques (i.e. multiple transmitters and multiple receivers) using a meteor radar network in northern Germany. The techniques increase the number of detections within a given volume and make it possible to map upper-atmospheric wind fields with resolutions on the order of 30 kilometers and 30 minutes. Our wind field estimation technique employs Gaussian process regression (currently popular for machine learning) to produce an estimate of the three-dimensional wind vector, along with confidence intervals, at any time and location within the observation window.

    The goal of this project is to further develop the MIMO meteor radar and wind field estimation techniques with an eye to eventual deployment of a meteor radar network around MIT Haystack. The specific focus of the work will depend on the student's skills and interests, and it could emphasize any of the following: prototype testing of a local deployment, software development for automated meteor processing and optimized wind estimation, and data analysis of existing campaign data.

  13. Experiment to Detect the Global EoR Signature (EDGES-3)
  14. Mentor:  
    Alan Rogers []
    Student Qualifications: This is primarily an engineering and engineering data processing project which should attractive students interested pursing a career in radio instrumentation. Students in EE with a background in hardware and software are encouraged to apply.
    Project Description: Assistance in the development and tests of a compact receiver covering 40 - 200 MHz with automated calibration to be built into a box which forms part of the wideband antenna for the third generation of the Experiment to Detect the Global EoR Signature (EDGES-3) for confirmation of the EDGES-2 detection and the refinement of Global 21 cm measurements of Cosmic Dawn.

    Cosmology models of the early universe predict a period following stellar ignition when the 21-cm line from the primordial hydrogen will appear in absorption against the cosmic microwave background (CMB). This occurs when the spin temperature of the hydrogen drops below the temperature of the CMB and before the Epoch of Reionization (EOR) when the hydrogen is heated to appear in emission over the CMB.

    In 2018 an absorption of about 0.5 Kelvin at 78 MHz (a red-shift of of 17) was reported in the journal Nature (Bowman et al) to have been measured by EDGES-2. This result is unexpected and if confirmed could be the result of new physics involved in the interaction of dark matter which results in cooling the primordial hydrogen to a much lower temperature than expected from the current models. The current models based on standard physics favor an absorption in the range of about 100 - 200 milliKelvin which is less than half the 500 milliKelvin measured by EDGES-2.

    EDGES-3 involves packaging the low noise amplifier (LNA), mechanical switches, amplifiers, filters, analog to digital converter (ADC), vector network analyzer (VNA) and powerful new small computer inside a box as part of the antenna. All this electronics is needed to make EDGES-3 a system with complete built-in calibration of the receiver as well as the accurate measurement antenna reflection coefficient. While most of the parts are commercially available some special circuitry will be needed to interface the computer to the switches, and measure and control the temperatures of different parts of the electronics which will include a heated load as part of the calibration system.

    EDGES-3 will be ready testing in the lab and a field test at The Forks in Maine in the summer of 2019 and an REU student is invited to join in the helping with lab tests and field test as well as the development of some new software, engineering reports and performance analysis for EDGES-3. Engineering items specific to EDGES-3 development are the demonstration of sufficient isolation of the signals generated by the electronics from the antenna and a sufficiently low level systematics in the calibrated spectra observed using "an artificial antenna" consisting of a noise source and filter which simulates the sky noise spectrum.

  15. Scientific and Technical Studies for the AERO Cubesat Mission
  16. Mentors  
    Geoff Crew []
    Mary Knapp []
    Phil Erickson []
    Frank Lind []
    John Swoboda []
    Ryan Volz []
    Jason SooHoo []
    Student Qualifications: Students with a background in engineering, mathematics, or computer science and an enthusiasm for space science are appropriate for this project. Some familiarity with Unix, MATLAB, and/or Python computing environments would be helpful but are certainly not a rigid prerequisite.
    Project Description: AERO is a small satellite mission led by Haystack, scheduled for launch in 2022, which will test a novel "Vector Sensor" radio capable of sampling low radio frequencies from orbit in the Earth's auroral zones. The satellite has not yet been fully designed and built, and this provides an excellent opportunity for students to get involved with a space mission at the ground floor and explore some of the capabilities of the sensor, the engineering of the satellite itself and/or aspects of planning for the mission.

    We envision a 3 student team project working on different aspects of AERO technology and science. At the time of this writing, possible projects could include (but are not limited to):
    • Mission planning software for configuration of satellite and ground conjunction operations (CONOPS) to yield optimal scientific results
    • Unmanned aerial system (drone) and software radio based RF calibration and characterization of the central AERO radio frequency sampling instrument ("Vector sensor¿)
    • AERO science software aimed at accelerating the discovery of new phenomena

Final projects will be selected based on matching student applicant capabilities and interests with those of the sponsoring staff members.



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