U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory scientists visit the Manila Observatory’s Ionosphere Research Building

Captain Stephen Jimenez and 1st Lt. Dean Anneser of the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory arrived yesterday at the Manila Observatory. They were accompanied by Mr. Patrick Medina, the Manager of the Ateneo Campus Network Group, to the Ionosphere Research building.  This 22 ft x 33 ft one-storey building houses ionospheric monitoring equipments, among them is AFRL’s SCINDA (Scintillation Network Decision Aid) which was installed years ago by Dr. Keith Groves, with the permission of Fr. Daniel J. McNamara, S.J. who was then the Manila Observatory’s Director.

The ionosphere is the layer of ions in the above the atmosphere which are formed due to the X-Rays and UV radiation from the sun which knocks off electrons from nitrogen and oxygen molecules in the atmosphere.  Because the free electrons in the ionosphere behaves similar to the free electrons in metals which reflect visible light, the ionosphere also reflects light but at radiowave frequencies.  AM and FM Radio communications are reflected in the ionosphere, which makes possible intercontinental radio broadcasting.

Radiowaves from satellites also pass through the ionosphere.  If the ionosphere is well-layered like a piece of cake, with well defined electron densities for each range of height, radio signals appears like a normal series of ocean wave under a light breeze.  But if the ionosphere is unevenly layered, like a piece of cake with blobs of mango and chocolate, the radio signals appear like disorderly, like ocean waves in a storm.  This phenomenon is called ionospheric scintillation.  In technical terms, ionospheric scintillations are the random temporal fluctuations in amplitude and phase of radio signals due to irregularities in the electron content of ionosphere (JPL/NASA).  These scintillations are detected by SCINDA.   This system was designed to provide Air force pilots with data on the ionospheric scintillations which may interfere with satellite communications and navigation technologies.

Upon the invitation of Mr. Medina, Dr. Quirino M. Sugon Jr. and his undergraduate student Ms. Mariel Dee (3 B.S. Physics) visited the two AFRL scientists yesterday morning.

“Sorry, the dust has infiltrated your machines.” Dr. Sugon said.  “We had a renovation here last week.  We chipped the cement walls as we lay out the new electrical wirings.”

“It’s okay,” 1st Lt. Dean said.  “We have a vacuum cleaner,” and he pointed to a black object shaped like R2D2 in Star Wars, but with a long nose of an elephant.

Lt. Dean is 26 years old.  His powerful muscles make him fit for the role of Captain America. But instead of a shield, he has his laptop.  And he uses his muscles to type Linux commands to pry open the programs buried in these old computer machines.  He also loves to play the grand piano, especially the songs of the jazz pianist Dave Brubeck.

“These are legacy equipments,” said Captain Jimenez as he pointed to the opened boxes with electrical circuit wafers and LEDS blinking red and green.  “The satellites cannot anymore recognize them.  We have similar problems with all equipments like these all over the world.”

Captain Jimenez is also 26 years old. He is taller but thinner, and immigration officials would mistake him as Filipino.  He told them he is Mexican.  Captain Jimenez is a mathematical physicist who loves Filipino cuisine like sinigang and sisig.  Being Mexican, he is Catholic.  Around his neck he wears a rosary given to him by friend.  “It’s for protection,” he said.  He has Palm with a calendar of saints.  He said the hotel where he is staying has schedules for masses in the nearby church.  He would have no problem hearing mass this Sunday.

Dr. Sugon introduced himself as the coordinator of the Ionosphere research at the Manila Observatory.  And he introduced his student, Mariel Dee.

“This is Mariel.  She is my undergraduate student.  She will be an exchange student to France.  She will leave this August.”

“Where will you go?” asked Captain Jimenez.

“Lille”, she replied.

“Lille is a beautiful city,” said the Captain.

The two officers shall stay for a few days in Manila, then they will go to Davao and Baguio to scout potential sites for their SCINDA antennas.  As of now these antennas are contained in two wooden boxes 2 ft x 2 ft x 1 ft each.  Beside them are two rolls of cables in large wooden spools.

Dr. Sugon and Mariel bade the two officers goodbye and left the building.

“What do you think of them?” he asked Mariel.

“I think they are cool,” she said.

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About ateneophysicsnews
Physics News and Features from Ateneo de Manila University

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