Thursday, July 7, 2022

High school students measured the Earth’s magnetic field from space using a small computer

HomespaceHigh school students measured the Earth's magnetic field from space using a...
Portuguese high school students programmed a Raspberry Pi computer to measure the Earth's magnetic field from the International Space Station.

As part of the Astro Pi Challenge, a competition sponsored by the European Space Agency and the U.K.’s Raspberry Pi Foundation,  three students, with the assistance of their faculty advisor, developed an add-on component for a Raspberry Pi computer — a low-cost, credit-card-sized computer that plugs into a computer or TV monitor. According to a statement from the American Journal of Physics, the competition required high school students to programme a Raspberry Pi computer with code to be executed on the orbiting lab.

“I saw the Astro Pi challenge as an opportunity to broaden my knowledge and skill set, and it ended up introducing me to the complex but exciting reality of the practical world,”

Lourenço Faria, co-author of a paper describing the work and one of the students involved in the project, said in the statement

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The student group designed an attachment called the Sense Hat that incorporates a magnetic, gyroscope, accelerometer, and temperature, pressure, and humidity sensors. Using data from the International Space Station, the students mapped Earth’s magnetic field and then compared their results to data from the International Geomagnetic Reference Field (IGRF), a library of observations from observatories and satellites used to calculate Earth’s magnetic field.

Due to the fact that the IGRF data are updated every five years, the students compared their April 2021 measurements to the IGRF data gathered in 2020, finding a large but constant difference between the two datasets. They repeated their research using data gathered from 15 additional orbits of the space station, which revealed a marginal improvement. The crew believes the discrepancy may be due to a static magnetic field within the space station, according to the release.

With only three hours’ worth of observations aboard the space station, the students were able to reconstitute the major characteristics of the Earth’s magnetic field using their magnetometer. According to the researchers’ statement, the team’s achievements may potentially have uses for ground-based measurements utilising laboratory equipment or even magnetometer apps for smartphones.

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In a statement, Nuno Barros e Sá, co-author of the paper and faculty advisor for the students affiliated with the University of the Azores, said: “Taking measurements around the globe and sharing data via the internet or social media would make for an interesting science project that could connect students from different countries.”

The paper describing their work was published May 23 in the American Journal of Physics

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