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DIAS Summer Interns 2023 #1

Seosamh and I (Chris) are working as DIAS summer interns for this year. We’re Theoretical Physics undergraduate students studying in Trinity and UCD. This is the first of a series of posts from us during our internship, where we’ll be talking about the work that we’re doing and any interesting events that occur.

During our internship we will be developing ionospheric disturbance detectors using SuperSID receivers. These receivers can pick up on Very Low Frequency (VLF) waves transmitted from around the world which can help us detect solar activity, as they reflect off of the Earth’s ionosphere which is influenced by changes in the sun. When the sun emits energy it increases the charge in the ionosphere which increases its reflectivity. This causes a boost in the signal strength, which can be seen when graphed over time.

We began our week by meeting in Birr Castle to visit the receiver stationed at the Rosse Observatory and research the system we’ll be using. As we’ll be tackling some difficult challenges, we made sure to have a good understanding of both hardware and software so that we can solve any issues that may arise. On Wednesday and Thursday, we worked from the I-LOFAR Education Centre in Birr Castle, looking more into the code behind the SuperSID and investigating possible aspects of the system that we can work on improving.

Joe McCauley (Trinity School of Physics) was kind enough to give us a tour of the I-LOFAR radio telescope, allowing us to see inside the container where all of the data is stored and into the covered tiles that make up the High Band Antennae. It was great to learn about the construction of the telescope and how it’s operated to observe regions of the sky.

In our first week we were fortunate enough to detect evidence of an X-class flare that occurred on Tuesday 20 June using the SuperSID system. This intense flare occurred over North America, peaking at 17:09 UTC. This is the largest solar flare we’ve had since March, making it an important event for solar weather. Interestingly, the strongest response to the flare came from the German VLF transmitter signal rather than the Maine transmitter. We’ve been attempting to find a reason for this behaviour, however there are many factors to look into so it may be a long-term project.