Monday, April 30, 2018

URSP Student Mario Autore Learns about Chemical Species in the Martian Atmosphere

My name is Mario Autore. It is my fifth year at Mason, and I am a double major in Physics and Chemistry. My project is looking at data collected from the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission to learn more about important chemical species in the Martian atmosphere. MAVEN is a satellite launched by NASA orbiting the Red Planet, embarking on an adventure to learn more about the evolution of the Martian atmosphere. MAVEN makes observations that quantify the stripping away of Mars’ atmosphere and studies how it continues to change with time. Dr. Erdal Yiğit is my mentor for the project and he has been using MAVEN in his work to better understand and model atmospheric dynamics. Dr. Yiğit taught one of my classes, and he was always pushing my colleagues and me to pursue knowledge and stand on the shoulders of giants. As I looked for pathways that would allow me to merge my love of research, chemistry, and physics it was almost impossible for me not to stumble across the MAVEN mission; and fortunately for me there was a mentor here at George Mason University who was doing work with the satellite and enthusiastic about helping aspiring researchers such as myself. Before this project my knowledge in the subject of astronomy was essentially none. I had no formal education relating to astronomy or planetary sciences, but my pursuit of knowledge and guidance of those around me propelled me to dive into the unknown. This is a project I am undertaking now that is helping me understand the realities of observational research, lessons I hope to carry on with me to graduate school. Since I started this project I have been searching through hundreds (feels like millions) of measurements to piece together an accurate picture of the chemical distributions of the middle and upper-middle Martian atmosphere. I meet with my mentor weekly, so we can discuss the best path for moving my project forward. This project is the ultimate interdisciplinary experience. I am combining my background in chemistry to learn more about physics and planetary atmospheres, while also gaining experience working with different program languages to perform data analysis. This is essential skill as data analysis becomes increasingly automated.