My interest in the Sun has been an important part of my life since high school. Sparked by a science fiction story, I became fascinated by the power of the Sun and how it affects all aspects of the solar system from life on Earth to the dust storms on Mars. While it nurtures all life on Earth, it has the potential to be immensely destructive in ways we are only beginning to understand. Outbursts highly-charged particles called coronal mass ejections (CMEs) wreak havoc on satellites, communications systems, and have at times even caused mass blackouts over large areas; as our technology grows more advanced and delicate, the larger the threat CMEs pose.
In my research project I wanted to examine the relationship between three solar activities: solar flares, sunspots, and coronal mass ejections (CMEs) in order to try and find a way to predict when CMEs would occur. To do this, I examined analyzed that NASA and NOAA distribute to the public for no charge; it is available for download on official websites. I focused on the period of 1996 to 2018 for my analysis: this would give me a view of two solar cycles (roughly 11-year patterns of solar activity), and the majority of CME observations have been taken within that time frame.
Most of my project involved creating and altering programs in Interactive Data Language (IDL) to convert the raw data from text files to workable sets of numbers: there were simply far too many data points to process them manually. There was a steep learning curve: I had never used IDL before beginning this project, and while it was similar in some respects to Python, a language I had experience with, I am far from a master of coding. By the end of the semester I now have at least a functional, if not elegant, grasp of the language and have successfully wrangled these tens of thousands of data points into coherent results. Apart from the results themselves, I’m proud of my growth as a scientist over the course of this project. It forced me to learn a lot of information in a short amount of time, and I think I learned a lot that I might not have in a traditional class environment: I now feel more prepared to conduct similar research projects in the future