Saturday, October 22, 2016

An Opportunity to Expand my Curiosity of Mars

An example of the X-ray spectra you’d see from a supermassive black hole vs. the one our new MSc Student Charissa Campbell was researching in her undergraduate studies. (Gallo, 2011, JRASC, 105,143) While many of our students have previous research experience, this is not true for all. Still it has been an added plus for our newest recruit from St. Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. 

by Charissa Campbell

After 5 years, I successfully finished my Bachelor of Science degree but I could not tell if I wanted to continue with my studies or not. The final year of my degree was intense, filled with 6 classes a semester, working a part-time job as well as completing my undergraduate thesis which involved weekly research. All I could think of during that time was why on earth I had decided to do this field of work. However, at the same time, receiving my Bachelor degree in May 2016 was a great accomplishment and I appreciated the degree much more.

To be honest though, when the time came around to apply to graduate studies, I had no idea if I wanted to repeat the process I was currently going through. Sleepless nights, typical college food and one assignment after another. Since applications were due in early 2016, I figured, why not apply anyways and see what happens.

Since I did my undergraduate thesis on high-energy astrophysics, this was all I knew, research wise. So I applied across Canada for high-energy research, specifically on Active Galactic Nuclei. However, one day I got an email from Dr. John Moores asking if I’d be interested in planetary science. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think or if I’d even respond as I didn’t know anything about planetary science since it wasn’t in any of my studies at Saint Mary’s university. But then the voice inside my head said I’d be crazy if I didn’t take any opportunity that came my way, especially since I have been interested in Mars research from a young age.

After thinking about if I wanted to continue with my studies or not, I decided to jump in head first and take the offer. Of course, I was scared and excited at the same time but my family were more excited. Especially my grandfather who has been dreaming of me going to Mars from a young age. I even have several books at home that he signed that were all about Mars exploration. He could not contain his excitement and even came with my Dad and I when I moved to Toronto, to help me get set up. So, every day I’m in the office I think of him and how excited he is for me.
One of the most unique things that my grandpa has suggested with any future Mars research is how I should take his pinky finger to the red planet. Yes, this may sound unusual but he is very set on the idea. His reasoning behind it is if, millions of years from now, aliens decide to visit Mars, they will come across his finger and clone him to learn more about Earth. Even though I may not go to Mars, I would still love to fulfil that dream of his, no matter how farfetched it may seem.

It may be obvious but planetary science is quite different than high energy astrophysics. For one, the object (Mars) that I am researching can be viewed quite easily. The object that I was researching for my undergrad was a supermassive black hole which could only be viewed by the X-rays emitted from the hot gas surrounding the black hole. Since we were not able to directly see the black hole, we had to infer what it was doing based on the X-ray data we received. With most astronomical research, you can never know 100% what an object is doing unless you can directly see it, and even then, you might still be wrong. Therefore, for my research now, it’s great to be able to see the object that I am researching rather than the X-ray spectra that I would view about the black hole.  

All in all, I am very eager for this amazing opportunity to be a part of the MSL science team to study Martian clouds. It’s been a bit confusing this first month but I know I’ll pick it up in no time. The best thing to remember is to never give up on your dreams because you never know what opportunity is just around the corner.

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