2004 - PJAS Astronomy Award Winners

Grades 7-8:

Cosmic Rays
Andrea Appel (John F. Kennedy MS)

Project Description:

The hypothesis chosen for this project was that it will be possible to collect cosmic rays by using a home-made cloud chamber. This hypothesis was based on an interview, over the phone and Internet, with a scientist at Penn State. A three-page research paper was written prior to beginning this project. Materials were gathered. A clear, custom-made container, with no top, and a retaining box were created to collect the cosmic rays. Cut black felt to the exact dimensions of the container and about 2.5 cm in height and soak it in isopropyl alcohol. Cut a sheet of metal so that it is able to sit on top of the container, like a lid, and cover one side with black electrical tape. Crush the dry ice and lay it in the bottom of the retaining box. Spread a thin layer of the alcohol on the tape side of the metal. Set container on tape side of metal and check for any air leaks. Place chamber in front of slide projector and begin observing. The hypothesis was proved correct; it was possible to collect cosmic rays.

How Does Light Pollution Affect Star Count?
Kristen Brotherson (Villa Maria School)

Project Description:

My research centered on light pollution's effect on one's ability to visualize the night sky. Through digital photography and star quantification at varying distances from the city of Erie's center, I was able to establish a direct relationship between the number of stars visible in a night sky and the distance form the center of Erie. The results were somewhat expected but very dramatic. The results also stimulated the concept of a star visibility index, which I proposed in my project. I feel that anyone buying real-estate should have an understanding of the light pollution of that specific property and one's relative ability to visualize the night sky. The SVI (Star Visibility Index) would tell the person the percent of stars they could see in the night sky compared to how many they could see if there were no light pollution.

Grades 9-12:

The Retrograde Motion of Mars
Nishi Dedania (Moravian Academy)

Project Description:

I did my presentation on the retrograde motion of Mars which has been proved many times before, but I used my own data to prove this to myself. As the Earth passed Mars in its orbit, I took pictures of Mars against the backdrop of the stars in the constellation Aquarius with my regular camera. When I decided to do this project, the retrograde motion of Mars had already begun, but I started taking pictures that night so that I would at least get the last curve, and that is what I eventually got. I took black and white photos, so I used ASA400 film. I developed the film and created prints in the darkroom by myself. Then I identified the stars on each of my prints, looking for several stars that were on all or most of my pictures. Once I had my reference stars, I used mathematical ratios to create another sheet with the position of Mars for each picture I had, and it was easy to see how Mars had moved in a curve. I also learned several things that would help me with the project if I were to do it again, such as: use more light-sensitive film, possibly use a digital camera and overlap the pictures in Adobe Photoshop, and start when the retrograde motion begins! I learned all this and more with this project because I got to learn about a subject, astronomy, which I cannot study in school.

AKR; Auroral Kilometric Radiation
Katie Pazamickas (Lourdes Regional)

Project Description:

AKR is a naturally occurring radio emission associated with the release of energy during space weather. It has a wavelength of about 1 km and a frequency range of 30-500 kHz and is generated by high-energy particles streaming toward Earth, along magnetic field lines. Its generating mechanism is inefficient and can only convert ~ 0.1% of the total electron energy into radio wave power; the rest is dumped into the aurora.

My questions:
1. Is there a connection between the generation of low-frequency AKR and the structure of the nightside aurora?
2. What is the low-frequency limit of AKR?
3. What is the structure of the nightside aurora during these low-frequency AKR emissions?

Hypothesis: Low-frequency AKR emissions, below 30 kHz, will produce unique structures in the nightside auroral oval that can be detected optically.

The method used to test my hypothesis was to integrate data from 2 science instruments onboard the IMAGE spacecraft. By integrating radio-frequency data from RPI spectrograms and WIC images of the global auroral oval, I was able to identify unique auroral structures that developed over the time period of the AKR emission.

The results of this experiment confirm that low-frequency AKR emissions occur infrequently. They comprise just 2.3% of the 1209 spectrograms evaluated spanning a 44-month period. Of those 28 confirmed low-frequency AKR emissions, a bifurcation or split in the aurora was seen 100% of the time. The bifurcation was seen in the dusk and midnight sectors of the auroral oval, which is where you would normally expect to see effects of AKR emissions. Low-frequency AKR emissions can range from 6-300 kHz as measured on the RPI spectrograms.

Since the early 1970s, the scientific community has accepted that AKR emissions primarily had a low-frequency limit of 30 kHz. This experiment has found evidence that AKR emissions can extend down to 6 kHz, which is indicative of a source region location much further back in the magnetotail and may have an impact on the generating mechanism surrounding AKR emissions that is not yet understood. That the bifurcation or split in the aurora was seen in every case where confirmed low-frequency AKR emissions reached 30 kHz or lower, suggests strong preliminary evidence of a direct correlation between wave and a particle phenomena. However, before the two can be linked scientifically, evidence that a bifurcation in the aurora occurs ONLY in the presence of low-frequency AKR must be found. This will require additional research on the data and is currently under investigation.