Wednesday, October 10, 2018

OSCAR Student Natasha Latouf Aims to Find the Percent Error in Measurement of Radial Velocities

I originally joined this project in October of 2017, after being pulled into the world of exoplanet research and becoming hooked instantly. I became interested because it was a subject area that I had not spent much time looking at previously, and the excess of new opportunities for research, knowledge, and scientific progression fascinated me to no end, leading to my passion for this project. 

This project is related to my long-term goals because I intend to become a researcher in the future, and being able to see how research works day to day, and have amazing opportunities to contribute to this project helps me realize the reality of my future career. 

This project has the goal of finding the percent error in measurement of radial velocities and ultimately sending NASA’s EarthFinder mission into space. I had the honor of using both the Keck and NASA Infrared Telescope Facilities for the measurements of velocities of stars, and collected data in support of this and other projects. I was able to travel to the California Institute of Technology twice to remotely observe with the Keck telescopes atop Mauna Kea, Hawaii using the HIRES high-resolution echelle spectrometer. I have been working with Dr. Sharon Wang at the Carnegie Department of Terrestrial Magnetism under the guidance of Professor Peter Plavchan at George Mason University, working through Dr. Wang’s code which will measure the amount of velocity error introduced by the Earth’s atmosphere.

On a weekly basis, there are several things that must be finished. Several pieces of code must be written in order to contribute to the larger code that will measure the error, such as conversion codes, and telluric plots. The project’s paper is due by the end of December 2018, and as such there is work being put into writing and editing this paper. Along with this, there are observing runs that must be made to the telescopes in California, and workshops to attend there. Each week is busier than the next and brings new challenges, but I learn more and more by hurdling these challenges. 

As of this moment, the pivotal code has not yet been finished, and as such, we do not have the error readings. However, I discovered this term how many smaller pieces go into making one large discover. While this concept had not been lost on me before, I had no idea just how many smaller pieces there are, and how much red tape there was to be maneuvered around.