Student stories

Studying magnetars with the synthesis radio telescope

Marcus Merryfield

National Research Council of Canada

“Behind me is one of the dishes of the Synthesis telescope. The telescope, which observes in the radio frequencies, uses seven 9-metre dishes to create images with the angular resolution of a 600-metre telescope!

During my work term, I analyzed data from X-ray telescopes which looked at two very interesting stars categorized as 'magnetars'. Magnetars are neutron stars with the strongest known magnetic fields in the universe! My job involved a lot of coding. I processed data from the X-ray telescopes, such as the Swift X-ray telescope and the Chandra X-ray observatory. I also used Python to analyze X-ray spectra with high energy astrophysics software developed at NASA. The magnetars I studied went into an interesting phase known as 'outburst', where the amount of power the stars emitted increased drastically. The extreme nature of magnetars makes them an interesting category of study. For example, magnetars may be candidates as fast radio burst sources, and fast radio bursts are currently an intriguing mystery in the field of astronomy!"

  • Co-op position: Research assistant
  • Employer: National Research Council Canada in Penticton, BC
  • Favourite part of my co-op: "The academic environment I got to be a part of! Being constantly surrounded by cutting edge science really made me feel like I was part of a scientific community. Everybody loved to share their research and talk about the latest astronomy news."
  • Most important thing I learned: "The details of research are incredibly important. One of the foundations of the scientific method is reproducibility - the ability to recreate a result by following the same method. I documented every detail of my data analysis for this reason!"

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