One Council Rock South High School senior is listening for radio waves from Jupiter with four antennas in her front yard. Laura Floyd of Holland is utilizing her ham radio license to try out a new method of planet detection as part of a four year independent study.
“The method I’m dealing with is called ‘synchrotron emission,'” Floyd said. “The only requirement is for the planet to have a magnetosphere. Basically, you have solar wind interacting with the planet and it produces a giant cone of radiation.”
The project mirrors a process NASA is attempting to use for exoplanet detection. Currently, finding new exoplanets is limited by lines of sight, while this method may prove much more reliable.
Floyd says the project has helped her find solutions to problems in a real experiment, which is crucial for her development as a scientist. She hopes her problem-solving will make synchrotron emission detection more viable in real life.
“When I first started this project, I thought to myself, ‘oh this will be easy,'” Floyd said. “But it ended up being way more complicated than that both with the equipment and the science. I built all the antennas and some of the equipment myself, so I’m enjoying that part.”
Floyd’s work has earned awards at science fairs, some even monetary. These, combined with a grant from her amateur radio club, have helped her fund the building.
Sadly, the data collection will soon come to an end as Floyd has to take down her ambitious endeavor.
“My father says as long as it’s not longer than two weeks because we do have to think about the neighbors,” Floyd said. “It’s kind of funny because people drive by and they just sort of slow down.”
As the cherry on top, a letter of recommendation from NASA for her college application process states they believe she has what it takes to one day become an astronaut.
Laura Floyd plans to study radio astronomy in college as part of a physics and engineering double major. She is currently deciding where she wants to attend for her undergraduate degree.