Earlier this year I applied for an astrophysics work experience placement at Liverpool John Moores University in partnership with the National Schools Observatory. I have always wanted to see what research within Physics would entail, and this week was the perfect opportunity to find out. The week consisted of a series of lectures by researchers and lecturers at the university, as well as a group project, which required us to write a report and create a presentation to show to the rest of the group, PhD students and the lecturers at the end of the week.
On our first day, we were introduced to Dr Stacey Habergham who helped to organise the week. We started off with some ice breakers to get to know the other people in the group, which was followed by an introduction to Astronomy in the afternoon, detailing current research and discoveries. It was so interesting to find out about what is going in the astronomy world, and learn about the university’s own telescope, the Liverpool Telescope which is situated in La Palma. The day ended by beginning to use the image processing software which we would use for our projects, which allowed you measure the brightness and size of stars, as well as to create 3-colour images.
The second day followed a similar format, which included more lectures. I was fascinated by a lecture on the classification and research on galaxies, which was led by Professor Phil James, which was followed by Dr Chris Copperwheat leading a more detailed talk on the Liverpool Telescope. In the afternoon we were put into smaller groups and introduced to our projects. I was in a group with two others, Josh and Alex, and we would be working on Planet Transits and Exo-planets. We spent the afternoon researching exo-planets, and the methods of detecting them, and soon realised that despite our small amount of research, we had been given an incredibly interesting project!
For the third and fourth days we worked on our project, and met with our project supervisor, Dr Chris Copperwheat who had given the lecture on the Liverpool Telescope earlier in that week. He provided us with all the data we needed, and really helped to get us on the right track. The majority of the day was spent measuring the data. We were given 100 frames (or pictures), and had to take 6 brightness measurements on each one! Later that afternoon we were given the exciting opportunity to look for sun spots and coronal mass ejections through a telescope, and we observed the first sun spot on the sun in around 2 weeks. Thursday was mainly spent creating the presentation, carrying out calculations, and drawing conclusions for the report. In the end, we discovered that the planet we were focusing on, HAT-P-5, is closer to the Sun than Mercury and is larger than Jupiter, along with some other more complex results.
On our final day, the morning was spent with current astrophysics students, who were telling us about the exciting research they were conducting for their PhD studies. There was a really broad span of projects, as well as some unconventional applications of astronomy, such as using techniques learnt in astrophysics and applying them to areas of ecology and conservation. In the afternoon, we gave our presentations, which showed the work we had completed on our projects, which was a great experience. It was really great to pass on the research we had conducted to the rest of the group, as well as gaining valuable public speaking skills. At the very end of the day, my group was awarded the best report for our Planet Transits project, which was totally unexpected and a lovely end to the week.
For this, we were given an astronomy box which would help us get started with stargazing. It was such an informative and hands on week that I would recommend to anyone considering Physics at university in the future, as it really helped to affirm my choice of doing a Natural Sciences degree at university.
by Emma Durkin
“Observatory Roque de los Muchachos (ORM)” flickr photo by herbraab https://flickr.com/photos/herbraab/28636097550 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license