College of Science

Beth Johnson

Beth Johnson
Beth Johnson

Beth is a physics major and an astronomy minor at San Jose State University. She spent the summer of 2013 working at the SETI Institute, as part of the CAMPARE program, processing and analyzing the January and February 2013 meteor data for the Cameras for Allsky Meteor Surveillance (CAMS) project with her mentor, Dr. Peter Jenniskens. Beth hopes to continue her studies in planetary science and help catalog more Near Earth Objects (NEOs). This is her story.

Beth Johnson computing

In the Summer of 2013, I had the privilege to work at the SETI Institute with Dr. Peter Jenniskens, the Principal Investigator for the CAMS project and one of the foremost authorities on meteors and meteor streams. I was incredibly excited to be at the Institute but also very nervous because it was my first real research job, and I was unsure what to expect. The very first day, Peter had me off and running, showing me how to use the various software programs we needed to get all the data processed before we could "find" meteors. He challenged me to work hard and get through as much data as possible, and I ended up finishing two months' worth of the backlog!

The brunt of my work was copying data files from external drives to my computer, running a couple of processing and calibration programs, and then looking through the results visually to manually tag meteors. I spent a lot of time trying to match the time offsets between all the various computers that were used to collect the images, and we even had one big situation where I had to manually calibrate 20 of the cameras twice due to a timing setback. The best part of the process was going through the Coincidence program and picking out the meteors based on their graphs, one by one. In ten weeks, I cataloged over 7,500 meteors, and I even got the chance to graph January's results and look for outbursts and new streams. We found a few possibilities and will be working together after our CAMPARE time is finished to confirm (or refute) our findings before we write a paper on the results.


Peter not only gave me the opportunity to work on a very interesting project, but he was a true mentor, guiding me and helping me with my presentations and my future graduate school decisions. He really helped shaped my expectations and desires for the future, and I feel that I am more prepared to finish my undergraduate studies and move on to the next phase of my career.

The entire summer was amazing, including the trip to Hat Creek Observatory with Jill Tarter, the hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park with a couple of the other scientists from SETI, and the visits I made to Fremont Peak Observatory and Lick Observatory with Dr. Jenniskens to not only work on CAMS but tour the facilities. I made new friends and contacts, I participated in an important scientific project, and I even got the chance to make discoveries of my own. I am definitely thrilled to have made even a small contribution to the study of the our tiniest companions in the solar system.