A group of high school students used a tiny and inexpensive computer to try to measure Earth’s magnetic field from the International Space Station. They showed a way to affordably explore and understand our planet.
Three high school students from Portugal have reported the results of their project. The students programmed an add-on board for the Raspberry Pi computer to take measurements of Earth’s magnetic field in orbit.This add-on component is known as the Sense Hat. It contains a magnetometer, gyroscope, accelerometer, and sensors for temperature, pressure and humidity.
The European Space Agency teamed up with the U.K.’s Raspberry Pi Foundation to hold a contest for high school students. The contest needed the students to program a Raspberry Pi computer with code to be run aboard the space station.
The students used the data acquired from the space station to map out Earth’s magnetic field and compared their results to data provided by the International Geomagnetic Reference Field (IGRF). They used measurements from observatories and satellites to compute Earth’s magnetic field.
The IGRF data is updated every five years. They found their data differed from the IGRF results by a significant amount. This difference could be due to a static magnetic field inside the space station.
The students repeated their analysis using another 15 orbits worth of ISS data and found a slight improvement in results. The students thought it surprising the main features of Earth’s magnetic field could be reconstructed with only three hours’ worth of measurements from their low-cost magnetometer aboard the space station.