James Sinclair (2010 DPhil Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics) is one of the first six LMH/Santander Research Grant holders. James writes about his recent research trip to a world-class observatory in Hawaii:
‘In December 2010, there was a massive eruption of thunderstorm activity in Saturn’s northern hemisphere. This thunderstorm appears to be the largest, most energetic storm observed on Saturn in the last two centuries, with temperature enhancements by as much as 80ºC in storm regions. Though smaller storms have been observed previously, technological limitations have prevented planetary scientists from studying them in detail. Fortunately, we are now able to study the outer planets using both ground-based telescopes and space-borne instruments. The Cassini spacecraft, currently in orbit around Saturn, has allowed us to map the thermal activity in the storm. Further understanding of the workings of the storm may be added by study of chemical species in the atmosphere which allow us to trace the updrafts and downdrafts present and how these change as the storm gradually weakens.
‘I was kindly awarded a travel grant by Santander together with my college, Lady Margaret Hall. This grant allowed me to join a team of observers during their allocated telescope time at the NASA IRTF (Infrared Telescope Facility) at the Mauna Kea observatory in Hawaii, earlier this year. This telescope, in conjunction with the Celeste spectrograph, provided high precision observations of Saturn’s chemical constituents in the storm region. In addition to experiencing the many wonders of Hawaii’s Big Island and the novelty (and exhaustion) of working at 14,000ft, this trip allowed me to obtain data which promises to be incredibly beneficial to my DPhil and to our understanding of thunderstorms on other planets as a whole.
‘I am very grateful for this award and the opportunity it has offered.’
Photograph by James Sinclair. The twin Keck telescopes at the Mauna Kea Observatory, viewed at sunset from the NASA IRTF telescope. The Keck telescopes were recently used to image the Venus transit.
Santander Scholarships and Research Grants