Left to Right: Alex Baldwin, Sara Peacock, and Heather Chilton at the Allen Telescope Array, Har Creek Radio Observatory, CA, July.
Heather is a double major in geology and physics at CSU Fullerton, focusing on the application to planetary science. For the 2012 summer, and sponsored through the CAMPARE program, she worked with Dr. Cynthia Phillips at the SETI Institute researching Mars dark slope streaks to identify relationships and rates of fading for the features. This is her story.
That first day up at the SETI Institute was not my first time meeting my mentor. It wasn't even my second: A year prior, I had emailed Dr. Phillips about attending an Enceladus Meeting at the SI, which is where I first met her, and March 2012 I met her again at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, where we got to talk about possible summer research projects. By the first day I was ready to hit the ground running and super excited to work with someone researching exactly what I wanted to get into and who was awesome to interact with. In fact, not only my mentor, but the whole program up at SI blew my mind, and I will spend the rest of my life trying and driven to match such a summer.
SI put a high emphasis not just on the research, but in getting the interns involved and learning about related fields and meeting various scientists in different subject areas. The first week was almost entirely spent in talks, either ones given to the students from the SI scientists directly or through the two weekly colloquiums, one at SI and one at NASA AMES. Throughout the summer, we were encouraged to attend the two weekly talks, as well as the several conferences that took place in the area including SETIcon II, the Lunar Science Forum, and the Exoplanet meeting.
Screenshot of data: spreadsheet of point locations, values and corrections in back, 1micron
Additionally, all the students were taken to Hat Creek Radio Observatory and Lassen Volcanic National Park for a week of hands-on science: We had two days of labs working on the Allen Telescope Array, two days doing geology and extremophile biology at Lassen and a free day to either hike or help at the Array. We got to interact with some of the top scientists in the field, research with them, then at the end of the day watch movies and play games together. Needless to say, the entire experience was incredible.
My research was a great compliment to all the other activities and talks I was getting involved with. I used MRO CRISM images, chosing a band that included the 1 micron wavelength to minimize atmospheric influences and did contrast comparisons of streaks over time. The entire process, from finding the programs I could use and identifying the one that would best work, locating sources for the CRISM images and their map locations, extablishing a method of taking data, determining how to organize and represent that data, and analyzing the results was exhilarating. Labs, and even research I had done before had always been carefully outlined and used only observation and comparitive data analysis with peers or professors, so what I was doing at SI was worlds above anything I had done before, and it made me incredibly proud and motivated going through the process.
SETI REU students + Curiosity, just before our Wednesday public 3-minute lightening talks, SETI Institute, August 8th.
The best was the last two weeks though. I had been running into some strange things in my data, so my mentor brought in another scientist who did related work and they decided there was no way to trust the data. It was no fault of my own, just a result of the process being more complicated and therefor the simplistic model and method we were using was under question. I ended up finding a way to verify, run an error analysis and, with my mentor, develope a more dynamic picture of the processes associated with Mars dark slope streaks. For me, that felt like the real science, not the going through the steps to reach a fargone conclusion but a moment of "well that's funny" and working out how and why.
I have no other words that to say it was an incredible and inspiring summer. I hope that in sharing the above, some of that got across and you were able to taste a bit of the journey that was my summer. SI, Dr. Cynthia Phillips, but particularly CAMPARE, without which SETI would not have been able to accept as many students, including myself, have made all the difference.