Kerry Hensley is a native of West Virginia and currently lives in Boston, Massachusetts, where she is a Ph.D. candidate in astronomy at Boston University. She is a writer for the award-winning research news website AAS Nova as well as Astrobites, a graduate-student-run research blog. Her essay recounting her time at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, "Quiet Zone," received awards for both Nonfiction and Emerging Writers Prose in the West Virginia Writers Annual Writing Contest. After graduating from Williams College in 2014 with a BA in Astrophysics and Chinese, she was a planetary science intern at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab and a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Nan’ao, Taiwan, where she attempted to convince 200 indignant elementary schoolers that Pluto is not a planet.
The Universe Beyond the Plasma Frequency
After centuries of watching the night sky with increasingly sophisticated tools, there’s still plenty we don’t know about the universe. Part of the challenge is that we’re stuck on a planet that’s surrounded by an atmosphere that blocks certain types of radiation from reaching the ground. It’s hard to complain too much, since if X-rays could make it to Earth’s surface humans would either be dead or a very different kind of organism, but it has certainly slowed our progress. We’ve managed to launch telescopes into orbit around Earth to observe most wavelengths of light, but there’s a huge chunk of extraterrestrial radiation that we currently have no means to observe. The culprit? A layer of plasma in Earth’s atmosphere called the ionosphere.Read More