MACH is devising a strategy to estimate how quickly different planets lose their atmosphere. There are many different kinds of planets, and many different kinds of stars. Topics which connect our everyday lives to MACH’s mission are discussed in many ways around the world. Below are some of our favorites.
Monarch Butterflies use Magnetic Fields to Navigate
Featured on the “Wonders of Life” BBC program with Brian Cox, this video takes the viewer three hours Northwest of Mexico City, where one of the few remaining wintering grounds for Monarch Butterflies is located. Brian Cox teaches us about the ways that these butterflies supplement their navigation by using measurements of the position of the sun taken each day with their eyes and magnetic sense.
Trees Show When the Earth’s Magnetic Field Last Flipped Out
42,000 years ago, the North Pole “wandered around.” By looking at giant Kauri trees in New
research team has found a way to study the historic movement of the pole.
Cooper and his team also found that the time of the wandering poles lines up with great changes to the climate, leading to the disappearance of neanderthals as well as many large mammals in Australia. It is even theorized that this influx of ionizing radiation and ultraviolet crashing into the Earth is what drove early humans into caves!
The Woman Who Mapped the Sun Over Time
Inside of the sun, trillions of hydrogen atoms fuse into helium atoms, a process called nuclear
fission. This ongoing explosion maintains the sun’s internal temperature of roughly 15 million
degrees Celsius, causing gas that is exposed to these temperatures to be turned into plasma. The
charged particles that make up plasma then produce powerful magnetic fields. This solar plasma
produce temporary concentrations of magnetic activity.
These concentrations of magnetic activity will reduce heat in an area, producing less light and what looks like a dark spot on the surface of the sun. These dark spots are known as sun spots, and they are what Hisako Koyama tracked diligently over a period of many years.
Earth’s Leaky Atmosphere
Dough Rowland, a NASA scientist, brought his research team to the island of Svalbard, where the small town nearest to the North Pole sits, in order to study one of the places where 100 tons of atmosphere escapes into space each day. The leak is a natural process, and part of the way a planet’s atmosphere changes over time. This understanding of atmospheric escape is a key factor in the search for other planets that could sustain life, and it has been on the mind of researchers for four decades. Part of what Rowland’s team in the North Pole seeks to better understand is the nature of change in Earth’s atmosphere over time. How would other planets, that may be similar to Earth, experience changes in their atmosphere?
Venus and its ‘Electric Wind’
While Venus may be the most like Earth in terms of size and gravity, its surface temperatures sit around 860 F. There is evidence, however, that Venus once had oceans in the distant past. If oceans boiled away as a result of temperature, though, Venus would have much more water in its atmosphere than it does. In this story, Bill Steigerwald explores the concept of an electric wind on Venus that is likely to be responsible for removing the steam from the atmosphere, and much more.
Mars and its Vanishing Atmosphere
On NPR’s program All Things Considered, Mars’ drastic change from a “reasonably pleasant place” to the dry and barren land that it is today is explored. Citing data from MAVEN, researchers have found that the atmosphere on Mars continues to deteriorate today, due to the solar wind coming from the sun.
Studying the Atmospheres of Planets Too Far Away to be Imaged
This exemplary video from NASA Goddard explores the ways in which astronomers today study exoplanets that are too far away to be directly imaged. By “splitting apart” the light of the star that these planets orbit, astronomers are able to study the atmosphere of exoplanets.
The MACH center developed a Summer Undergraduate Research (SUR) program, leveraging the structure and offerings of LASP’s NSF-funded Boulder Solar Alliance Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) program. The 2021 SUR program was an 8-week program in which students virtually participated in weekly professional development activities, including IDL programming tutorials and presentation rehearsals. The program was evaluated via weekly student journal entries and monthly mentor check-ins. Evaluation data indicated that the pilot SUR 2021 program successfully trained 3 female students in research methodologies, ion escape affected by space weather, planetary magnetic fields and EUV stellar outputs, all in a positive and supportive environment.
2022 SUR Program
May 23 to July 29, 2022: The MACH Center will host 3 undergraduates in a 10-week, paid ($600 per week) summer research experience with mentors from University of Colorado, Boulder, University of New Hampshire, University of California, Los Angeles, and Sonoma State University. Potential projects involve studying the influence of magnetic fields on the ability of planets like Venus, Earth, or Mars to retain an atmosphere, including projects that study ion outflow. Students will work with faculty at a partnering University, not at the University where each selected student is currently enrolled.
If you are interested in applying for this opportunity, please submit the required information using the online form at https://mach-center.org/apply by April 11. Selections will be made by April 25. Applications require a resume, which includes your GPA and relevant science, technology, engineering and mathematics courses, and responses to the following questions:
- Tell us about yourself (Personal statement)
- How will this opportunity help you in your educational goals?
- Describe a time when you have shown grit.
- Do you have past research experience?
- Tell us your relevant upper level courses.
- What programming experience do you have?
Eligibility Criteria: Students must be starting their junior or senior years in the Fall of 2022, a U.S. Citizen, and from a MACH Center University partner. (Partnering Universities: University of Colorado, Boulder, working in partnership with University of California, Los Angeles, University of Kansas, University of New Hampshire, and Sonoma State University. )
2021 SUR Program
Geomagnetic Storms and Ion Outflow
Genevieve Katherine Payne
Genevieve Katherine Payne asked the question, “How do different types of geomagnetic storms change the
ion outflow from Earth?” To answer the question, first Genevieve gives a few brief descriptions of solar
storms, coronal mass ejections, stream interaction regions, and geomagnetic storms. Genevieve and her
team used data from the FAST satellite to observe a full solar cycle of 11 years. By using previously
existing times and dates of recorded coronal mass ejections and comparing them to the data obtained from
the satellite, Genevieve and her team were able to establish a clear correlation between the number of
CME and SIR events and the sunspot activity during their years.
Downloads: Presentation (.pptx) | Journal Entries (.docx)
Evidence of Currents During Atmospheric Escape on Mars and Their Locations
Jade Fitzgerald’s research focused primarily on Mars and the waning of its magnetic field over time.
There are, however, various magnetic spots of crust, which can actually cause an occurrence of Aurora
Borealis, similar to that seen on Earth. Jade then asks, “Are these events significant to habitability?”
To answer this question, Jade used data from the Mars Global Surveyor, or MGS, from January 2001,
November 2003, and April 2005. As expected, there are stronger regions of the crust that have
Downloads: Presentation (.pptx)
Mars as an Exoplanet of an M Dwarf Star
Xinrun Du sought to answer the question, “How does the stellar wind of an M dwarf star affect the
atmospheric escape of a Mars-like planet?” Beginning with a brief explanation of the M dwarf stars,
which are the most abundant type of stars in our galaxy, Xinrun demonstrated why a planet orbiting an M
dwarf star would be more exposed to the stellar wind. Mars was chosen as a comparison planet because of
its complex magnetization, as well as the atmospheric loss over time which already has established data
Downloads: Presentation (.pptx)
About MACH Mentoring
Do Habitable Worlds Require Magnetic Fields?
Prof. Dr. David Brain, Principal Investigator (PI) of the MACH Center, has presented to multiple audiences on the topic of whether habitable worlds require magnetic fields. He has thus far presented at the following events. If an event has a link, it is to the online recording of the talk.
- U. Heidelberg Joint Astronomical Colloquium, 16 November 2021
- Europlanet Science congress (EPSC), 07 September 2021
- Asia Oceania geosciences Society (AOGS), 06 August, 2021
- Boulder Solar Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program, 09 July, 2021
- Arizona State University School of Earth and Space Exploration (SESE) Colloquium, 10 March, 2021
- Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) Public Lecture, 03 Feb 2021
- Queen Mary University of London Astronomy Seminar, 06 November 2020
- University of Massachusetts (UMass) Lowell Physics Colloquium, September 16, 2020
- Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC) Scientific Colloquium, March 04, 2020
- TedX Talk, December, 2020
Dome-to-Home Virtual Events
During COVID19 Restrictions in 2020 and 2021, MACH partnered with Fiske Planetarium and the Laboratory of Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, to share MACH science with the public in live events. These events were available for virtual attendance and can be viewed below.
Fiske Planetarium Dome to Home: A science education series that is free and open to all audiences, but specifically geared toward 4th – 8th grade students. Science on a Sphere (SoS) Network Members: View a list of over 150 institutions globally have SOS displays with the capabilities of interacting with MACH SOS datasets.