A group of intrepid Emanuel students have been working hard for the AstroPi competition run by the European Space Agency, together with the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The aim of the competition is to design an experiment to be carried out on the International Space Station using one of the two Raspberry Pi computers that are on board.

Alberto, Ed, Alex, Fred, Ollie and Mackenzie have come up with an experiment to collect data about the strength of the magnetic fields experienced by the ISS as it travels around the Earth. With this data they will be able to observe the asymmetry of the Earth’s magnetic field due to the interaction with the solar wind. They have written a computer program that records measurements of the magnetic field, together with the time, and calculated position of the ISS at that time.

If they succeed in getting to the next round of the competition, the experiment will be performed in space some time in April. The team will then analyse the data, subtracting the overall mean magnetic field vectors from all magnetic field data to normalise for magnetic fields from the space station itself, and then use the data to graph the fluctuations of the magnetic field strength with respect to the latitude and also the position of the sun relative to the ISS which they will be able to determine from the location and time data.

We expect to see peaks in the fluctuations when the ISS will be passing nearest to the magnetic poles and we then expect to see greater values on the sun facing side of earth than the dark side, due to its interaction with solar winds, which should distort the field lines so that they are compressed on the light side and stretched out on the dark side. It is the asymmetry between the light and dark sides of the earth which we are most interested in investigating. We may also find fluctuations in the field due to local topography, for example if cities or mountain ranges affect the Earth’s magnetic field.

Alberto (year 11), Fred (year 12) and Dr Dancy (Teacher of Physics)