NASA lands at BYU-I


The air was full of excitement radiating from the students as their time to work had finally come.

Students gathered around a robot sent to them from NASA to assemble what they call an AERONET, which stands for the Aerosol Robotic Network.

Many of the students are new to BYU-Idaho and are from different majors and backgrounds. With them, they have a huge instruction manual on how to set up this robot NASA sent them.

They shuffle through the parts and chatter about the proper way to set it up. Finally, all the pieces fit together and the robot starts to move around fulfilling one of its purposes: to find sunlight.

“I’m new to this program,” said Todd Lines, a physics professor. “I have worked for NASA before. I am an atmospheric scientist, that’s what my degree is in.”

The robot will be placed on the top of the George S. Romney Building.

Lines said that the earth puts out “particulates,” or, the common term: dirt. This can help them discover things about other planets and, most of all, solve issues such as climate change. Without studying data about this, it is hard to know what exactly is causing climate change.

Michael Butler, a freshman studying physics, said the project has been quite the endeavor.

“From what I understand, they ordered it a while back, but it didn’t come complete and so it was missing a couple parts and they weren’t able to build it entirely, so it’s kind of been a work in progress for a while,” Butler said.

He said he is excited to get involved with different projects the physics department offers, as well as working with NASA.

Kaya Stahle, a senior studying geology, said “NASA is always good to have on anyone’s resume ever. It’s NASA; a very formidable organization.”

Stahle said she approached Lines and helped out by taking pictures on the roof to send to NASA. She encouraged other students to get involved as much as possible.

“The Rexburg site is in the bull’s-eye of the Aug. 21 total solar eclipse,” said Brent Holbren, the project scientist for the AERONET program at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC). “There will be a number of measurements leading up to and including totality, and the AERONET site will be one of those supporting measurements. In this regard, we expect to develop an eclipse algorithm to be able to characterize aerosols up to totality. If the day is cloud-free and stable, it will be a test of our eclipse algorithm. We’ve never in the 25 years of the program had an instrument in a total eclipse.”

Holbren said he hoped BYU-I would be able to maintain the project for NASA as long as they could because of the important measurements that could be provided.

He said the machine can help them more accurately predict air quality issues, radiation balance and other atmospheric conditions.

“Other aerosol parameters, such as particle size and solar radiation absorption, are also computed. Both are important in understanding the radiation balance and could be considered a climate parameter,” Holbren said.

Students were very excited to finally see this robot move on April 28. They will continue working on it throughout the year. They hope to have the robot mounted on the roof of the Romney Building as soon as they can.

This is another way the school is preparing for the solar eclipse. For more information on the eclipse go to http://www.byui.edu/eclipse-2017.



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