Astronomy Department Students Excel in 3-Minute Thesis Competition

The NMSU Astronomy Department is no stranger to doing well in NMSU’s annual 3-Minute Thesis competition, and this year was no different. The competition challenges students to compress a research project into a short 3-minute presentation. It tests their ability to concisely and effectively communicate complex ideas to a general audience. This year, astronomy graduate students Ethan Dederick, Jean McKeever, Sam Schonfeld, and Sean Markert all competed, and Ethan and Jean won 1stand 2nd place, respectively.

Dederick discussed his work on Jovian oscillations. He investigated oscillations that could be caused by moist convection from storm systems, but found that there wasn’t enough energy from said storms to create them. “However,” he explained, “There may be a resonance between the storms and the oscillations, such that if the storms give the oscillations just enough energy in just the right way, over and over, then the oscillations can be excited by moist convection.”

McKeever presented on her work regarding the asteroseismology of red giant stars. “I made the analogy of a star as a water balloon, generally round and fluid inside, then flicked the water balloon. The wiggles and wobbles of the water balloon are similar to the waves traveling inside a star,” She explained. “In this analogy the flick is created by convection in the surface layers. The waves create a characteristic pattern of peaks in frequency space that can be modeled theoretically.” Once modeled correctly, the oscillations can reveal information about the interior of the star.

Markert explained his research on weak gravitational lensing in dark matter simulations by comparing it to the way the lenses in a pair of glasses bend light. “As the cluster distorts space and bends the path of light based on the mass distribution, lenses in glasses bend light based on the shape of the glass,” He said. “My own research uses simulations to look at these mass distributions, and see how well certain density profiles fit them when recovered by weak lensing analysis. This is just like how an optometrist will try to correct a patient’s vision by using different prescriptions.”

Schonfeld talked about understanding the Sun’s influence on Earth’s upper atmosphere. Essentially, he used radio radiation from the Sun as a proxy for extreme ultraviolet (EUV) light in models of the Earth’s upper atmosphere. He paid special attention to the influence of EUV on the Earth’s thermosphere (the topmost layer of Earth’s atmosphere) and how its variance might affect satellite orbit.

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