SEcrets of the space storms
Last October, four NASA satellites flew into a magnetic reconnection region in space. Scientists know that magnetic reconnection results in explosions — solar flares, or magnetic storms and auroras on Earth. They just don’t know the rest of the story. And knowing the specifics will help predict magnetosphere activity to enable us to prepare for space weather changes.
When the four flat, round spacecraft — known collectively as the Magnetospheric Multiscale mission — encountered the magnetic reconnection, they sent back information depicting the exact point of a reconnection for the first time ever. They measured the energy conversion — enough to power 10 million 200-watt solar panels. The discovery was chronicled in the May 12 edition of Science in a paper co-authored by physics associate professor Paul Cassak in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences. Cassak was responsible for developing numerical simulations to help scientists understand what happens in the region where reconnection occurs. He used observations from the mission and computer simulations to analyze how magnetic fields reconnect around Earth.
Humans have walked in space, been to the moon, lived on a space station. But we haven’t done much with asteroids. Yet. Students in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources went to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, this spring to test their design for an anchoring tool that could be used in NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission. This mission is intended to land a robot on a large near-Earth asteroid, collect a multi-ton boulder and redirect it into orbit around the moon for later exploration by astronauts. Matthew Morrow, of Ellicott City, Md.; Sean Lantto of Manassas, Va.; and Justin Fitzwater, of Moorefield, W.Va., guided by research assistant professor Thomas Evans, designed a device to anchor astronauts’ tools to a surface using underground roof bolting techniques like those seen in coal mines.
Engineers in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources are partnering with GE Global Research and GE Fuel Cells LLC to increase the performance of solid oxide fuel cells. These fuel cells are more efficient and produce fewer emissions than traditional fuel cells that transition fuel into electricity, but they are not widely available because only a few manufacturers worldwide make them. The team at WVU will be working to investigate new ceramic materials for the fuel cells that would be potentially cheaper, healthier and more stable long-term. “If we can successfully create an alternative to the materials currently used in the process, we can improve reliability and reduce maintenance costs and downtime. These systems would then become more economical and more robust,” said Edward Sabolsky, who is participating in the project from WVU along with Xingbo Liu and John Zondlo. This research is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.
How could situations like development and climate change affect your local fishing streams? Conservationists along the eastern half of the U.S. can get some ideas for planning the future of fish populations from a new online tool that uses data and maps to help manage fish habitats. The Fish Habitat Decision Support Tool was designed by firms Downstream Strategies and Critigen with assistance from professor Todd Petty and associate professor Michael Strager in the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design. With this tool, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and North Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative can restore habitats strategically at the watershed level. “The completion of the web tool is the culmination of several years of research we initiated at WVU,” Petty said. “We believe that it can fundamentally change how we make conservation decisions as they relate to water resources and fisheries.”
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