Students, including undergraduates, at the University of Colorado Boulder have helped solve a 60-year-old space mystery using a satellite the size of a shoebox.
The question was how certain energetic and potentially hazardous particles are created in Earth’s inner radiation belt. To find the answer, more than 65 students from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) designed and built a “CubeSat,” or mini-satellite—then operated it from the roof of a building on campus.
Based on the CubeSat’s observations from space, researchers led by Professor Xinlin Li concluded that the particles were generated by cosmic rays that traveled to our solar system from distant supernovae.
It’s par for the course at LASP, where students play an important role in everything from basic research to operating multimillion-dollar NASA missions.