Mission (to Mercury) Complete | #5

 

Upon completing my internship at the Space Research Building, I have learned a great deal about Mercury’s magnetosphere. Through looking at orbits from the MESSENGER mission we have concluded that the plasma sheet is highly variable, constantly changing in size. We have confirmed that reconnection of the magnetosphere occurs a lot faster than it does at Earth. Unfortunately, we have also discovered that there are so few counts in the Northern Lobe of the magnetosphere, that we might not be able to make any conclusions on its behavior.

While we learned a great deal of science from our data, I also experienced firsthand how the process of science discoveries and strategies work. When I first sat down with my research sponsor we had a clear idea of how we would annotate certain boundaries from each orbit and then answer questions about the Northern Lobe of the magnetosphere. Through a preliminarily look we discovered that the boundaries are not as clear-cut as we imagined. Back at the drawing board we realized our definitions would have to support anomalies and require a great deal of personal judgment. From there, we analyzed the orbits. Once we had a decent amount done, we looked for trends with the programming language IDL. At this point we realized we would not have enough counts in the Northern Lobe to do a great deal of science, so we would have to look at other questions to ask. How and why does the plasma sheet vary? However, in order to do this, we would have to look back at the plasma sheet and see if we were receiving an accurate view of what it looks like (due to orbit orientation some orbits might cut off some of the plasma sheet). In short, from this internship I learned that while science seeks to answer questions, often times our methods of answering those questions are limited and we might have to revise our initial inquiries. Science is not cut and dry, rather an engaging process that requires constant revision. I am deeply thankful for the opportunity to perform research on Mercury’s magnetosphere because it allowed me to garner an inside glance of how the science community functions. I can now appreciate the amount of effort and hard-work that goes into each research finding.

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