What is this project?

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The NASA IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP)

The NASA IPAC Teacher Archive Research Program (NITARP) is based out of the Spitzer Science Center (SSC) and the NASA Infrared Processing and Analysis Center (IPAC). The program allows a few teachers (and a few very lucky students) to do research using archival data from the Spitzer Space Telescope, and other NASA archives such as NED, IRSA, and the NASA Exoplanet Archive. The teachers are divided into subgroups to work on different research projects and sometimes teachers work on more than one subgroup. Each subgroup is paired with a scientist from the IPAC community and, sometimes, also NOAO scientists. Each subgroup has a lead scientist who serves as the mentor for the individual project.

This project was originally called the Spitzer Research Program for Teachers & Students and had the teachers writing observing proposals for a little bit of Spitzer observing time. The first round of participating teachers attended a Fall 2004 workshop (in Tucson, AZ) to become familiar with the Spitzer Space Telescope and receive training in infrared astronomy and observational techniques. The teachers also attended a workshop in January 2005 (in San Diego, CA) to learn about planning observations, and telescope and instrument capabilities. The second round started, with a slightly different model of how to work the program, in 2005. In 2006, the GAVRT program started - this program also pairs teachers and scientists to use Spitzer data, but this is yet again a slightly different model. In 2007, the last class of Spitzer teachers started their projects. In 2009, Spitzer ran out of its onboard cryogen (helium), so the nature of the mission changed. As a result, the budget distribution at the SSC changed, and the Education and Public Outreach (EPO) budget went away. In order to keep this Teacher Program going, we obtained money from archival programs for Spitzer and other IPAC archives (NED, IRSA, etc.). As a result, the name of the project changed, the NITARP program was (re-)launched, and the projects are now all archival research. The mission of the program is still the same: to provide teachers with an authentic research experience. The IPAC archives are incredibly rich and there is an awful lot of science just waiting to be done! The first class of NITARP teachers is expected to start in 2010.

Once the research project has been defined (with the help of the mentor astronomer), the teachers visit IPAC (in Pasadena, CA) to begin the data analysis with the scientists. Teachers may choose to bring one or two students to this data analysis meeting.

The abstracts for all the projects are available on this website.

Goal of any of these research projects

The general goal of all of these Spitzer teacher research projects is (was) to produce (a) at least one poster paper at an AAS meeting, and (b) a journal article. A conference poster is generally a work in progress, and can be rough (though it doesn’t have to be). Its main purpose is to advertise your work and get feedback from peers. A journal article is everything wrapped up in a nice package, with all loose ends accounted for and all assertions thoroughly justified. Its main purpose is to get your work into a permanent place where generations afterwards can read and learn from it. It is peer-reviewed by a (usually anonymous) referee.

So where do you fit into all of this?

If you are selected as a teacher or student researcher in one of these Spitzer projects, you will have the unique experience of working collaboratively with a group of people to research, form hypotheses, interpret data and draw conclusions. In short, you will truly become a research scientist! Your collaborators will include other students from your school, your teacher, other students and teachers from across the country, and a real research astronomer from either NOAO or SSC/JPL.

What will you be doing?

For starters, you will need to learn a huge amount of material about infrared astronomy, the Spitzer telescope and the object you are studying. This wiki is only a start. You will need to use the Research Tools listed on this site. For example, you will use the ADS website to do a literature search, e.g., research and read previous abstracts that are relevant to your research. You will also learn to use various computer programs to view and analyze images of your object. You may be chosen to represent your school as a student researcher on a trip to Caltech/JPL in Pasadena. There, you will meet with other students, teachers and your scientist(s). It’s important that you are well prepared for this meeting, so expect to have lots of work and reading if you are chosen.

The meeting at Caltech/JPL will be a high point of all of your hard work, but not the last step! Most of your time there will be spent with scientists as well as other teachers/students. They will teach you a few things along the way, but most of our time will be spent analyzing the data/final images. Once you return from the trip to Caltech/JPL, you will be involved in writing the final paper, which we plan to have published in a peer-reviewed journal.

What is the SSC?

The Spitzer Science Center is an organization created to support Spitzer. It is based at Caltech, but is a hybrid organization, belonging to both Caltech and JPL. Its sister institutes are the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI, at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore) and the Chandra Science Center (CXC, at Harvard in Boston). Other ground- and space-based observatories also have support centers (e.g., NOAO’s facilities in Tucson support their observatories at KPNO and CTIO), but of the space-based observatories, only the so-called Great Observatories have support centers this large.

The SSC operates the spacecraft. If something strange happens, we help the spacecraft recover and resume normal operations. The SSC writes documentation so that astronomers know what Spitzer can do and how to prepare observations. The SSC runs proposal calls. Astronomers propose to use Spitzer -- there is a call for proposals each year. Most recently, astronomers asked for about 5 times as much time as there is available. A group of about 75-100 astronomers (none of whom work for Spitzer) gathers in Pasadena each Spring to look through all the proposals and decide who gets time and who doesn’t. For all the successful proposals, the SSC ingests all the observations, reviews them, and releases them for scheduling. We prepare the observing schedule. The SSC gives the series of spacecraft commands to JPL so that they can be radiated up to the spacecraft using the deep space network (DSN). The SSC ingests the data when they come down from the spacecraft, and processes the data through pipelines written and maintained by the SSC. The SSC keeps an eye on the data returned by the instruments to make sure that they are calibrated and that they are behaving well (e.g., watching for bad pixels, chasing down instrumental effects). This is accomplished by watching everyone’s data as they whiz past, as well as by creating specific observing sequences to calibrate and/or investigate effects. The SSC provides the data to the astronomers, and provides documentation to help them process their data. The SSC helps astronomers get good media coverage for their cool images and results, and helps generate educational materials related to Spitzer and the infrared. There are proably other things we do too that I have forgotten.