Quiet before the storm?

Last week was a little uneventful, which meant it was my most productive research week so far! I finally made a pretty and giant code to get all the information for the database at once. I was sooo happy but, also, felt incredibly lame at the same time. The issue that was holding me up was figuring out how to string together multiple queries. After Googling for days, literally, and trying allllllll sorts of combinations, I got frustrated enough to just put the dang queries next to one another AND IT WORKED! So you see, I was thrilled and thoroughly annoyed. Haha.  With a working code, I worked away, pulling data, organizing, analyzing and even graphing! I even got a “Good Job!”, exclamation point included.

Aside from research advances, I was really proud of myself for finishing my finishing my Journal Club presentation a whole 6 days ahead of time! It was nice to not stare at it for a few days before getting a list of corrections from my mentor. Thankfully the correction was not “This is bullocks! Start over!” It’s really only a few minor changes to give my presentation a better sense of the big picture. I’ve never been great at explaining the big picture to others. This will be good practice! My presentation is on a paper written by Andrew Siemion from UC Berkley about the SETI projects conducted there with a focus on Astropulse, conducted at the Arecibo telescope in Chile and Fly’s Eye, conducted at the Alan Telescope Array in Northern California ran by SETI Institute. Both projects search for radio pulses sent by extraterrestrial intelligent beings. So, it’s almost like I’m a spy reporting back on the competitor’s activities! (But not really since the paper was published 4 years ago and the authors work closely with SETI’s radio astronomy team.)

While I’ve kept myself gainfully employed, I’ve actually worked out and continued to study for the GRE! It helps that I keep the weekends and evenings pretty quiet. It’s actually kind of nice to do nothing on a weekend. I’m so used to running around doing errands and visiting family that doing nothing has been great! Though, I’m also really excited to have my husband come up this weekend. We’re calling it our Movie Weekend, 2 movies in 2 days! (It was going to be 3 movies but we’re attending the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Universe 2014 public event on Sunday. Dr. Jill Tarter and Dr. Chris McKay and Dr. Geoff Marcy will be speaking about SETI.)

Actually this whole week has been and will continue to be busy and awesome. Today’s SETI Talks colloquium was given by a PhD student at UC Davis, Sona Hosseini, and was on the tunable spatial heterodyne spectrometer she built and does science with for her PhD program. Her story and how driven she is to create her own path is really inspiring. Tomorrow Dr. Seth Shostak is giving a talk on his experiences in Africa, I’m participating in a group interview for a documentary, called Madame Mars, on women in science and getting the first person on Mars to be female (which definitely needs to happen), then we’re taking a field trip to Lick Observatory in the evening. Thursday, Dr. Tarter is the colloquium speaker at Ames, Friday is my Journal Club presentation and this weekend is Movie Weekend! Then there’s only three weeks left! Oh. Man.

Of coding and presentations

The past few weeks have found me mostly running the radiative transfer model for my research, trying to figure out why its plots don’t match observed data as well as they could, and occasionally breaking it. I also gave a talk about a journal article related to my project as part of the REU’s journal club. The code models the interactions between a dying star (calm enough that it won’t go supernova, and instead turn into a white dwarf) and the the dust around it. The star radiates and this affects the chemistry of the dust. The code outputs a graph of the spectrum we would expect to see and hopefully it fits a collection of observed data points. I have been varying input parameters to see if there is a set that makes the model fit the data. So far the fits are not as good as they could be,  but there a few weeks left to find ways to improve the model. There have been a couple of times I “broke” the code. These happened when I tried to change one of the inputs (dust geometry, or grain size and extinction coefficient) to inputs that would make more sense for the object being modeled. The first time the radius of the dust shell that makes sense was too big for some part of the code to know what to do with so it returned infinities and no plots as I was used to. The second happened this past Friday and I still need to talk to my mentor about it. I guess it is a good thing I am finding these errors, though, so that they they can be fixed for future protects for which my mentor and her colleagues will use the code. Edit (July 28 10:00am) I have fixed “I think I broke it #2″. I feel a little embarrassed as I was inputting the wrong value for extinction coefficient. My talk was about the chemistry (specifically distribution of objects based on things like size or charge) of these things: PAH structure figure They are called Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and can be used to keep track of other chemistry going on in nebulae.  A very nice data base of them and their spectra can be found at (click browse). This is the database the paper used to create maps that keep track of PAH properties. The paper looked at the following part of  NGC 7023. This is rather zoomed in but was the region where the authors of the paper had good data, and was interesting because of the change in dust density that can be seen. apj467668f1_lr Besides my research, the weekends have been relatively quiet, which has been nice. :)


Hello, its been a while since I’ve blogged. I must admit, I’ve been very distracted and curious; it’s cool not knowing anyone outside of the apartment, it makes me want to go explore or read up on material I don’t get a chance to when I’m surrounded by family and friends. But I’ve been talking to some of the grad students, and they are all so nice, helpful and knowledgable. So far I’ve been connecting with Megan the Elder (as we call her) the most because she’s just down the hall and she’s always so open with what she’s working on and the joy or frustrations of it. I really enjoy hearing her minor struggles and victories because I totally understand, even if its on a significantly lower level. I hope to be that hard working and down to earth in the future!

So, since I haven’t talked about anything I’ve been doing at work yet, let’s start from the beginning. My project is to reduce data taken by the IMACS CCD of the Magellan telescope in Chile. My target is Supernova 2010jp, and it is unique from most supernovae in that it has characteristics of a Type II supernova while having a jet. The spectra of the supernova also shows a triple-peaked H-alpha profile, with high velocity red and blue emission lines and broad wings. The broad wings are similar to a previously discovered supernova, Supernova Ic, in that these particular relativistic jets ([could], for our case)  produce gamma ray bursts. The spectra also indicates a narrow central component that could be due to supernova ejecta interacting with circumstellar dense material. To add to the oddities, the supernova is located in a remote region, far from its neighboring galaxies:


This is an image from chip 2 (I forgot the exact image name, probably number 63), where SN 2010jp resides. I’ve had to reduce the quality because the maximum size of file that can be blogged is only 2MB, so I apologize for the blurriness. This image has been bias-reduced and flat-fielded and it uses ds9′s log and z-scale. The two very pretty celestial bodies in the upper right hand corner are the neighboring galaxies and SN 2010jp is located somewhere in the middle and is very faint and pixelated: IMG_0188

This is from Nathan Smith’s paper on SN 2010jp published in 2011. It shows us zooming in on the target from the left being the less focused image, to the right being the most focused image.The SN is indicated by the very faint hash marks on the right most image.

Given the SN’s distance from the galaxies, it is a mystery as to how it could have produced a luminous and detectable explosion (although its absolute magnitude had a relatively low peak in the first place). This phenomena is still being explored, and is outside my range of knowledge at the moment.

Now, onto my actual labor. I mentioned before that my first image had been bias-reduced and flat fielded. When reducing images, we want to remove the noise that stunts scientific evaluation. In the case of biases and flats, it is the lone noise of electrons in the detector and the variations of the gain, respectively. The bias frames are taken when the shutter is off, as so to account for the additive electron-noise effect. The flat fields were taken of a white wall, as to account for the multiplicative effect of the gain variation. So, I am going to have to subtract bias frames from the science images and divide the science images by the flat fields.

My first step was to create super biases for each chip. IMACS takes mosaics of the sky and moves around to account for the spaces in between. This CCD had 8 chips fortunately using the same filter, so I have to create super biases and super flats for each individual chip.

When creating super biases, I had to combine all the bias frames into one. Simple enough. Using IRAF (a data imaging and reducing program), I created lists of all the bias frames for each individual chip using the “ls” command (ex. $ ls iff*c1.fits > biasc1.list), and then combined them using “imcombine” (ex. $ imcombine @biasc1.list superbiasc1.fits). I then created input (unbias) and output (bias) lists for the science images ( I notice now that my choice of name is kind of confusing as the unbias title should have been for the output list, but at least I noted it to not confuse myself!). I then used imarith to subtract the superbias from each chip (ex. $ imarith @unbiasc1.list – superbiasc1.fits @biasc1.list). I also had to subtract the respective super bias from all of the flat fields, so I did that as well.

Next, I had to create my super flats. I created lists of the flats from each chip and I ran imstat on the lists (ex.  $ imstat @flatc1.list). Running this command gave me the number of pixels, mean, standard deviation, minimum and maximum values of each image. I chose to use the mean value to divide out my flats because it would average out the noise. I then created output lists and divided by the mean values from its respective image (ex. $ imarith @flatc1.list / @statflc1.list @sflatc1.list). Then I combined the images to make a super flat for each chip (ex. $ imcombine @sflatc1.list superflatc1.fits). Finally, I flat fielded the science images (ex. $ imarith @biasc1.list / superflatc1.list @sfflatc1.list). I did these processes for all eight chips.

I am now working on creating master images for each chip (probably/hopefully to combine into one master mosaic?) by choosing the same star (from images 52-63 of each chip) from each image in hopes to combine them all neatly. I have since then taken the coordinates of one star in each chip, which was actually pretty laborious because IRAF would systematically freak out. But I got through! I am now trying to figure out what my next step is.

Although the process seems smooth on paper, carrying it out was quite frustrating. I’ve concluded that the computers in the computer lab hate me. I’ve had to run around to get help with the technical problems (frozen accounts, choppy ds9 images, etc) for most my time here, but I’m still powering through. A huge lesson I’m learning is patience; patience and good judgement to not get angry when I encounter a problem, to just say to myself “Okay how can we fix this”. I honestly think I’m a little late in learning this mindset, but hey better late than never!

Outside work, I’ve been relaxing, working out, and reading up on the things I’ve been meaning to. Kickboxing classes are really fun! Everyone has been doing it for 4+ years, but I think I’ve caught up with the movements. I just lack the strength to hit hard and take hard hits. I’ve also been learning the basics of cooking, and it is actually quite fun! Just very time consuming.

Well, that’s all for updates, until next time!

PS. I like the sunsets here.

arizona sunset

Half Way!!!!

I’ve expressed this sentiment before but it is even more pertinent now: I’m both excited and scared! This time it’s to be half way through my internship! My project is going very well; it continues to be as fun as it is challenging. I’ve even managed to study for the GRE and to prepare my research poster and abstract for the condensed matter experiment research I did last academic year at my university, Cal State Long Beach.

     Coming back to a research project after 5 weeks in a very different field is quite hard. I have definitely learned the value in a detailed notebook. My condensed matter research project was atomic force and magnetic force microscopies imaging of ferromagnetic thin films. Learning to use such a sensitive, intricate, expensive machine (the microscope) was really fun. I never would have thought I’d love machinery so much. My fondness for ‘tinkering’ was reconfirmed in my electronics class last semester. Processing the images and analyzing them for information on the compositions and creation techniques of each sample was great investigative learning. I did thoroughly enjoy myself all year. The difference between enjoying condensed matter research and the unquenchable curiosity I have for astrobiology and astrophysics, in particular deep outer space, is what will give me an exciting career and fulfilled life that my current astrobiology mentor, Dr. Gerry Harp, and my previous condensed matter mentor, Dr. Jiyeong Gu, both have. From this I’ve realized I’m in the right field, astrobiology/astrophysics.
     Past the hard work and soul searching, these last 5 weeks have been incredibly fun. my roommate and I have a fun new tradition of sipping tea and eating vegan sushi on Castro Street, Mountain View’s adorable downtown/restaurant row. Learning about my fellow interns’ home lives, views and research is so neat. Even physicists are such a diverse, interesting group. We even make weather ‘”small talk” an interesting, educational event! It’s been a great confirmation to become friends with such diverse nerds! :) Apparently, not all physicists speak Klingon and live in a basement. (Though, I love the ones that do!) I was very happy to meet fashionistas, musicians, rock climbers, crafters, jewlwery makers, filmmakers and chefs.
     Lastly, this weekend, I was pleasantly surprised by my conservative family’s reaction to alien-hunting and Mars colonies. My amazing, 76-year-old mother just told me she would have DEFINITELY volunteered to move to Mars before she had kids. Apparently, space is no place for children. (Though, I tend to disagree.) It took me a great deal of convincing my mom, sister and bro-in-law that we have in fact not yet found aliens. My family even excitedly listened to me prattle on about possible liquid oceans on various moons  in our solar system. It’s nice to know that even stubborn conservatives enjoy science, too!

More pictures of Astronomy Camp

Astronomy Camp is over, here are some pictures I took. WP_20140624_001















































Astronomy Camp

Astronomy Camp

Universal History in 5″

I can fit the history of the universe in the palm of my hand! Human ability to make anything relatable amazes me. I haven’t quite decided if it’s a really neat trick of the human brain or a poor trait that doesn’t allow us to fully grasp the magnitude of concepts. Today we watched NASA’s “Are We Alone?” press conference event. It was great and inspiring and I can’t wait to, hopefully, be one of the astrophysicists who get to work with data from the James Webb Space Telescope or even the next generation space telescopes. What struck me more is this image:


That’s the history of everything put into a images just a few inches long! What?! These are the things that blow my mind. Dr. Jill Tarter talks about having searched through a mere “glass of water” in the universal ocean for extraterrestrial technology. I work in those collected signal databases for my project; it’s a HUGE glass of water. Another common simile: there are more stars in the universe, an estimated 10^22, than there are grains of sand on Earth. That hurts my brain!

Today while I met with my mentor, Dr. Gerry Harp, I caught myself almost nonchalantly agreeing that in the interstellar medium there’s about 1 electron per every cubic centimeter. Once I try to visualize it, it’s a daunting picture. Next we began talking about the possibilities of analyzing the intergalactic medium using radio astronomy and dispersion measurements and what implications that may have. Once again, my brain came to the brink of explosion. So much inspiration is thrown out regarding science and scientific goals, sometimes it’s numbing, sometimes it’s addictive. Sometimes, the grandeur must be set aside so actual work can get done. It’s such a difficult balancing act to keep the big picture in mind when working in the minute details.

much dark. very matter. such blog.

Wow, it feels like just yesterday I moved into my apartment and almost killed myself trying to skateboard down one of the many hills Irvine has to offer. My time here at UCI has been jam packed with all things space and I have been loving every second. I started out by simply familiarizing myself with all of the tools I would be using for the remainder of the summer, Fermi tools and Python/IPython, which are now both my best friends and worst enemies.(For all the python users out there, if you haven’t heard of IPython yet, look it up. It’s basically like if Mathematica and Python had a baby and it’s magical.) I am for the most part finished with my first official project, which was to make a sweet movie of the emerging dark matter from the galactic center. This was done by creating a residual map of the data provided then subsequently subtracting the different sources of  photons to eventually show the “dark matter”.

It'll look more exciting when the movie is done, but yah, there it is. (the axis are just pixel numbers in this picture)

It’ll look more exciting when the movie is done, but yah, there it is. (the axis are just pixel numbers in this picture)

I’m excited to show off these beauties later this week in a friendly competing of who can give the best presentation of their summer project, undergrads vs grads. The grad students offered to buy everyone pizza, so obviously we couldn’t refuse.

I have also been keeping busy outside of Irvine. As co-captain of the CSUF Physics Club Pumpkin Launch Team, I have been working hard to make sure that our plans to build the BEST trebuchet ever, go as smoothly as possible. So far we have a solid blueprint, collected all of our supplies, and have started measuring/cutting all the wood for the framework. Unfortunately with me being so busy here throughout the week, they had to start without me, but because they are the best team ever, they have kept me up to date with lots of pictures and stories of their shenanigans.

I'm just thankful nobody lost a finger.

I’m just thankful nobody lost a finger.

I have been learning so much here and can’t wait to see all of my projects come together and get started on the next one.


Time is definitely flying by. The HCRO trip was awesome and honestly, I didn’t even miss the internet. What I missed most up there was being able to communicate with people that were out of sight. That said, having the internet back is nice, but it seems to be a very utilitarian experience. With presentations coming up this Friday, it’s crunch time and everyone is having to work really hard to get both their presentations done and their normal work for their mentors.

Almost Half Way There

Since my last post I’ve been able to get through some of the data reduction process. It’s been a little difficult and there has been a lot of trial and error, and error, and error but I have made progress! The steps I’ve gone through with the raw data are as follows;

Separated the data by filter and by type of image (bias frame, object frame & flat field) Made a superbias (combined all bias frames) and subtracted them from the object frames and flat fields. Then I made a superflat and divided that from the object frames to normalize each image. I’m currently finished with shifting the images and co-adding them for one filter and I thought I was finished with the second one but I have since learned I need to separate the images by exposure time. This one of the finished images from the first filter. Trust me it looks a lot better now then when it did from the raw data.

SN2009ip is to the left of this galaxy

SN2009ip is to the left of this galaxy

On the  of June our professor Dr. Nathan Smith took us up to Kitt Peak to go observing with him and we got to see what a real telescope looked like as well as how it operates. The unfortunate thing was that we had “the second half of the night” which means from midnight to 6:00am. Thank goodness monster energy drinks are a thing because it was the main reason I made it!

I may have been a little delirious by 4:00am

We ended up getting to the mountain before the sun set so we were able see a desert sunset and I thought I should share it with all of you.

photo 3 (1)

Getting back to the internship experience I would like to mention that I’ve met some new people. I’ve been able to establish a relationship (hopefully a non-annoying one) with the graduate students and I got some really good advice about applying to grad school. I also mustered up the courage to go across the street to meet the NOAO students who were weird, but a good weird, a weird I can get along with.

I hope to get further with my research and I will leave all of you with a telescope mirror selfie… that Annah took because the angles were weird.

photo 2 (1)