Week 4: "IUE"

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Sunday, June 22, 2014


Nick Durofchalk

On Monday, I woke up at 6:42, caught the 7:57 Metro train to New Carrolton, transferred to the 8:40 Prince George's County Bus, and arrived at Goddard at 8:58, a commute that had engrained itself in my head like clockwork. Since Dr. Gull would be away for one more week, I set about continuing my work from the week past. Further organizing and sifting through the data from the IUE, and seeing whatever there was to see. Nearly everyday, I would email Dr. Gull detailing the progress Caleb and I had made in that day, and we would get a response urging us to continue our analysis.

Our findings were few and far between, but Caleb and I made some notable observations. For one, by looking at the scatterplot of Peak Flux (at a particular wavelength associated with an emission line) over time, we could determine the periodic nature of Eta Carinae, and observed that the local minimums of our scatterplots roughly aligned in time with the recorded periastron dates. In addition to the periodicity, we also noticed a general trend over the 20+ year time frame -- The flux was generally increasing as time went on. Or in other words, the star was getting brighter! Of course, we needed to take this information with a grain of salt, since our plots were littered with bad data points and had a slew of other issues. Nonetheless, it was exciting to see a general trend in a scatterplot that initially seemed to hold no pattern whatsoever.

One of the best days of the week, Thursday, I went with Tom Madura, a post-doc working with Dr. Gull on Eta Carinae, to the Conceptual Image Lab. The CIL had one of the coolest offices I have ever seen. This is where all of the animators and video producers at NASA Goddard work. Each of them had a desk with three large monitors, touch screens, drawing tablets, and a host of other awesome technology and worked on all of the various visual projects at NASA. As an music recording technology major at Lebanon Valley College, I'm very interested in the Audio/Visual world, and while it's not quite the same as my passion for physics, it is still a fascination. Afterwards, I emailed one of the employees at who works in the CIL and arranged to have lunch with him next week. I really look forward to talking about the work that he does.

James Webb Space Telescope Mirror Segment.My girlfriend stayed in DC until Monday night, and I was extremely happy to give her a brief tour of NASA Goddard late in the afternoon. We walked around the campus, visiting my office, the building that houses the James Webb Space Telescope (currently under construction), and the Building 1 Gift Shop. It was really neat to stand on the observation deck and to look through the window to the Clean Room and see pieces of the James Webb waiting for assembly. Very close to where we were standing, we could see one of the hexagonal components of the JWST main mirror. As we looked over the room, I couldn't help but feel humbled, thinking out-loud that in a few short years that mirror would be over 1 million miles away and orbiting our sun.

When the work week had concluded and the weekend had arrived, I was more than happy to catch up on sleep. But before that, I went out to dinner with Ben Perez, Stephen, Jake, Simon, and Kearns. We went to a Texas Barbecue restaurant called Hill Country BBQ, and let me tell you, this place was amazing. I had 1/3 of a pound of pork ribs and some baked beans, and I don't think I've ever had ribs that delicious. The funny thing about this weekend though, was that wasn't the last day of barbecue! On Sunday, a large majority of the SPS interns went to the Safeway Barbecue Battle. It was $15 admission, and once in, we walked around the festival and collected as many free samples as we could get our hands on! It was a really fun time, and we ended up spending four hours there. While I didn't buy any of the barbecue, by the time I left, I was full from the free samples.

Nick Durofchalk