Student Studying Hurricanes in Space Wins 1st Prize
Emily Hyatt (’12, DB), an engineering physics graduate student at Embry-Riddle and a recent undergraduate, won first prize in magnetospheric physics in a student research contest sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Community Coordinate Modeling Center, which conducts research in space science and develops new space weather models. Her competitors included doctoral students from around the country.
Hyatt used simulations to calculate the location, size and travel time of Kelvin-Helmholtz Instability (KHI), a phenomenon that produces huge magnetic hurricanes in space that can break through Earth’s magnetic barrier and spill solar wind plasma into the atmosphere; and cause auroral ionospheric disturbances similar to the Northern Lights. The phenomenon may also explain the loss of atmosphere on Mars.
Hyatt will present her work at the National Science Foundation’s Geospace Environment Modeling workshop June 17-22. An Army ROTC cadet, Hyatt received her bachelor’s degree on May 13 and will pursue a master’s degree in engineering physics at Embry-Riddle.
While these hurricanes are two to three times larger than Earth, they are dwarfed by the environment where they occur. Hyatt’s work is important because these magnetic hurricanes are rarely observed in the magnetosphere due to the enormous size of space and the small number of spacecraft.
Hyatt's study analyzes all published cases of KHI, as well as several new cases identified by Thomas Moore, an Embry-Riddle graduate student who received honorable mention in the magnetospheric physics category.
“Emily’s work can be used to ‘reverse engineer’ the detection of the magnetospheric KHI by observing directly its effect on the ionosphere,” said Katariina Nykyri, associate professor of physics and Hyatt’s faculty adviser. “Emily’s research paper is the first step in this process, as we now know what kind of signatures we can expect to see and where, and how long it takes along the magnetic field lines for the magnetospheric disturbance to travel to the ionosphere.”
The research by Hyatt was funded by a prestigious NSF Career Award granted to Nykyri in 2009 for her research on space hurricanes.
“Emily’s work is consistent with Embry-Riddle’s IGNITE! program, which encourages students to get involved in research,” Nykyri said. Embry-Riddle is unique among U.S. universities to the extent that it fosters undergraduate participation in applied research.