Special Edition

by Lucy K.

Walking in UNC at night is quite a picky process.

First, in order to even hit the road, you have to ensure that you’ve completed all your laptop businesses. Second, you have to scavenge for a buddy to walk with if you finish early or late, and third, you have to plan your routes well (within the parameters of course). And last, but certainly not least, you must pay close attention to the ground to avoid an encounter with lively roaches, in the dark. They have an upper hand.

I still vividly remember my first hour in the dorm when I witnessed my roommate being greeted by a giant jumping cockroach in her closet while unpacking. Ever since then, a black elliptical clump of dust or stain on the floor has become painful to look at, especially when without any sort of corrective lenses in the shower. The point is that it’s picky and demanding.


With the help of lectures, psets, lab hours, and those hard late-night walks though, I successfully ran my first OD code on the test input on July 9th, at 10:09 pm. It was the longest code I’ve ever written as I haven’t had much experience with computer programming. In fact, it remains one of my top 5 memories at SSP. And there I realized, “No more late-night walks!” I told myself that I’ll be leaving the lab, maybe not exactly at 9 but before 12 at the latest to catch up on some sleep and explore the night side of the campus, within the parameters of course. After all, all I had left to do was simply change up some numbers in the input file with our asteroids and leisurely work on our OD report due later next week.


This was true, except that my code didn’t quite work with our asteroid’s input values. I created another text input file where I typed in all the required inputs to calculate the orbital elements of our asteroid. I had our team Overleaf open on the side, ready to input all the elements I would be getting.

And it errored.

I had a slightly bad feeling but still held hope as it’s important not to lose hope in dark times. I re-entered my RA and DEC values, creating new input files and reviewing my code.

As my input file stared back at me and I had started to memorize all my RA and Dec values from our observations though, I slowly began to forget that philosophy.

And indeed, I walked in the dark with cockroaches that night.


It turned out that it was also a common problem among other groups. Our research group consulted other SSP’ers, TAs, and professors to figure out why the percent difference persisted for some elements even with different combinations of accurate observation data, time intervals, and sources. Although the later outputs came near the expected orbital elements, there remained a few % differences and uncertainties.

Long story short, we didn’t get any definite answers, but we did learn that we just did real science. Errors are bound to happen, and expecting a pinpoint explanation for everything is an unrealistic expectation to hold, especially when working on a time-constraint project like this. And unfortunately, real science doesn’t come with an answer key in the back. Not even the odd-numbered ones.


Today, we worked with a team from Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) to finish up our orbital integration project and present the fate of our asteroid to faculty and peers.

By running SWIFT overnight, our group found out that 1991 CF was an extremely stable asteroid ( all 20 test particles survived). So while the other groups talked about their asteroid’s collision with the moon and Mars, we could pretty much sum up our 2-minute presentation with this:

Although it was a rather underwhelming finale to our eventful business with 1991 CF, it felt nice to have some kind of closure in midst of some remaining uncertainties and sappiness, a farewell with our asteroid.


Today marks the last full day of SSP here at UNC. And as of tonight, all our OD report has been submitted, observations done, and the fate of our orbit determined. Yes, there were roaches, a lot of them, clouds that didn’t want to cooperate for observation, and delirious nights in the lab from OD’ing too frequently. But, as many other SSP’ers have said, I probably wouldn’t trade this experience for anything else in the summer.

To back this up, I’d like to share the rest of my top 5 memories at SSP. In no particular order,

1. When our group found our asteroid for the first time

2. Running a successful OD Code for the first time (although short-lived)

3. Encountering an infinite loop of ‘zen of python’ with no context. (I legitimately thought my computer was haunted), coding and lab in general

4. Hearing relatable and real things at the faculty table and Dr. Bauer going “Slice” ( I don’t know. It really just stuck with me for some reason)

5. Late night ramen, cosmic cantina, early mornings, Saturday outings, etc.

This was clearly more than 5 things, but it clearly shows how exciting and memorable the last 5 weeks were.


Time was weird here. It’s still hard to believe how each day just seems to crawl through, yet weeks just fly by. That is, with the exception of this week where every hour seems to pass by too fast.

So in a few hours, we will begin to say our goodbyes, and SSP will officially end. I’ll probably be repeating what I said here then but in short, I’d like to thank everyone, my research group, all the SSP’ers, the TAs, and professors, for making this 5 week-journey not only possible but memorable for me.

Thank you and I hope to see you all again some time!

About Me:

Hi, my name is Lucy and I’m from Michigan. In my free time, I like to listen to Michael Jackson, go on a night drive, watch Kdrama and other TV shows, read dystopian novels and learn new things on the internet. In SSP, I spent a lot of my time walking, people watching, and listening to Michael Jackson in the lab while debugging.