USNO United States Naval Observatory


Washington, DC


Brian Mason -

COVID Summer Status 2023:


Student Requirements:

Students must be solely U.S. citizens. (Permanent residents and dual citizens are not eligible.) Students must also have their own transportation to the site.


USNO’s mission is to determine the positions and motions of celestial bodies, motions of the Earth, and precise time; provide astronomical and timing data required by the Navy and other components of the Department of Defense for navigation, precise positioning, and command, control, and communications; make these data available to other government agencies and to the general public; and conduct relevant research, and perform such other functions as may be directed by higher authority.

About the Lab

Established in 1830, The U.S. Naval Observatory (USNO) is one of the oldest scientific organizations in the Federal Government. The observatory provides astronomical and timing data required by the Navy and other components of the Department of Defense for navigation, precise positioning, and command, control, and communications. USNO is one of the preeminent authorities in the world in astrometry, Earth rotation measurement, precise time, fundamental reference frames, and solar system dynamics. USNO is a small institution, with a total technical staff of about 60 in Washington. The technical staff is all civilian, with a high proportion of Ph.D.'s in astronomy and physics. Astronomical observations are carried out in Washington and remote facilities.

What is unique about this lab?

USNO’s facilities in Washington is home to the 0.7-meter (26-inch) refracting telescope, the U.S. Master Clock (an ensemble of over 70 atomic frequency standards), an operational atomic “fountain” clock, as well as experimental optical clocks and the Mark 4 VLBI correlator. The USNO library, one of the most complete astronomical libraries in the world, is also located in Washington.

About the Internship

We are seeking motivated college students with an interest in expanding their knowledge and developing their hands-on experience in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, particularly in fields related to astronomical research. Current areas of active research involve all-sky astrometric surveys (ground- and space-based), stellar dynamics and astrophysics, binary star orbits, long-baseline radio and optical interferometry, 2D sensor arrays (optical and near-infrared), speckle interferometry, Earth rotation dynamics, astronomical reference frames, astrometry and dynamics of solar system objects, artificial satellite orbits, photometric standards, planetary nebulae, quasar structure monitoring, atomic clock development, clock ensemble characterization and control, satellite 2-way time transfer, numerical and statistical techniques, and automated daytime stellar imaging.

What will I do any given day as an intern at this lab?

Interns participate in lab functions in a number of ways including (but not limited to) assisting mentors with guided research projects; attending technical meetings, seminars, and conferences; and job and project shadowing with professional researchers.

What majors and disciplines are a good fit for interning at this lab?

  • Applied Engineering
  • Applied Mathematics
  • Astronomy
  • Computer Science
  • Engineering
  • Electrical Engineering
  • Electronics Engineering
  • Information Sciences
  • Physics

What will I learn as an intern at this lab?

Intern projects can vary significantly depending on the needs of the assigned department and mentor. They can include constructing and investigating equipment, research related to current research or publication needs as well as software development and technical writing.

What kinds of projects do interns at this lab participate in?

Improving Orbits of Binary Stars: Interns took existing orbit, added new data and employed differential correction methodologies to improve the orbit.

Earth Spin Rate Changes and Atmospheric Angular Momentum: Converting ΔT data for Atmospheric Angular Momentum (AAM) effects to give a smoother curve for detecting episodic spin rate changes in Earth rotation taking into account zonal tide, season effects and numerical weather models.

Improving Illuminance Dara with Raspberry Pis: Successfully configured multiple environmental sensors to read data to the Raspberry Pi as well as to store all of the data taken in an SQLite database that records tables of data on the Pi’s storage device via programming in Python.

Improving Radial Velocity Coverage in the USNO Bright Star List: Developed a new method written in Python that greatly expanded the coverage of radial velocity measurements improving it from 22% to 78% coverage. The error of each radial velocity measurement was also constrained to less than 1 km/s.

Refining Refraction Models to Acquire More Precise Sunrise/set Predictions: Compared actual rise/set times from locations with predictions from programs that included refraction due to meteorological data. Determined the current refraction value of 34’ to be inadequate to predict sunrise/set to a minute or better.