Two weeks from today I leave on my first research-related travel as a part of the Magnetosphere-Ionosphere Research Lab (MIRL). For those who haven’t heard, I’m going to Antarctica! I’ll be gone for about 5 weeks to help install some scientific equipment at various locations on the Antarctic continent.
What kind of equipment, you ask?
The group I’m going with will be installing a few different kinds of magnetometers, sensors that measure changes in Earth’s magnetic field. Different kinds of magnetometers measure different frequencies of variations in the magnetic field. Our lab is typically interested in Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) or Ultra Low Frequency (ULF) fluctuations (yes, those are real scientific terms!). A few months ago I went to a farm outside of campus to test an ELF system, one of the sensors I’m installing on my upcoming trip. Here’s what it looks like:
The long white tube contains the sensor itself. It’s basically a long metal rod with copper wire wrapped around it millions of times. The sensor is really sensitive so we have to get it away from any sort of electrical noise, hence the test at a farm outside of town, far away from the power grid. The spool holds the cable that runs from the main building so we can get the sensor as far away as possible from noisy electrical signals.
In the Antarctic installation this will stretch several hundred feet away from the building where the electronics are housed. The electronics for the ELF system look something like this:
This box takes the information from the magnetometer and turns it into useful bits and bytes that a computer can then save in a format we can read. Once we were sure the system was functioning properly, we boxed it up and shipped it down to the ice, where it will be waiting for me upon arrival.
What are we measuring all this for? I’ll let Jon Stewart help me illustrate:
Any questions? Send them my way. Otherwise, I’ll continue to update this site throughout my trip, so stay tuned!