Project Radio JOVE Has Teenagers Listening

Volume 15, Number 1, March-June 1999

By James Thieman

What is Radio JOVE?

Radio JOVE ( an educational project intended to get students involved in scienceby encouraging them to listen to a radio. Not only do they listen, but they also help to build the equipment and use it to listen to the unique radio sounds of both Jupiter and the Sun and possibly collaborate in research on the solar system. Jupiter generates natural radio emissions, and these emissions have been observed by dedicated ground-based radio telescopes since the 1950s. The Sun is also a strong natural radio source. Strange and exciting phenomena such as predictable radio noise storms dependent on the rotation of Jupiter and the orbital position of its moon, Io, still not well understood. Several spacecraft have monitored these radio emissions, such as Voyager, Ulysses, and Wind, and now Galileo is in orbit around Jupiter, returning important new information. Solar radio bursts are not as predictable but have been correlated with high sunspot activity. The years of maximum solar activity (2000-2001) are approaching, and associated radio bursts should be more frequent.

In mid- to late 1999 and again in late 2000, scientists and observers around the world will collaborate as a part of International Jupiter Watch (IJW - and monitor Jupiter closely as Galileo crosses the orbit of Io several times. Ground-based observations are important at wavelengths not observable by Galileo and give a different perspective on the sources. Widely scattered observations help to overcome the variable filtering effects of the Earth's ionosphere. Thus, students using simple, inexpensive radio receivers can participate in the scientific process by collecting, comparing, sharing, and analyzing data. Radio observations of Jupiter must be made at night when the Sun's effects on the Earth's ionosphere fade away, but the equipment can also be used for daytime observations of solar radio phenomena.

The project has adopted the successful approach used by the Interactive NASA Space Physics Ionosphere Radio Experiments (INSPIRE - program for involving students in ionospheric observations through the building of special Very Low Frequency (VLF) receiver kits and making their own measurements. SSDOO hopes that many of the schools that are participating in INSPIRE will expand their activities to this new area.

What are the program objectives?

1)Arial To acquaint students with the science of radio astronomy and the excitement of being involved in the scientific process.

2)Arial To learn electronics through construction of inexpensive kit-based radio receivers suitable for hands-on learning of radio astronomy as a science curriculum support activity.

3)Arial To collaborate with other schools and the science community through a Web site that teaches about radio astronomy and is a coordination point for Radio JOVE data sharing in conjunction with the International Jupiter Watch program.

4)Arial To enable, through theWorld Wide Web, observation and usage of data from a professional radio telescope observing Jupiter and the Sun.

5)Arial To develop educational resources for teaching and understanding the science of ratio astronomy.

How does it work?

The Radio JOVE project is centered around the development of low-cost radio receiver/antenna kits that can be assembled by science classes and used to collect planetary or solar radio astronomy data. The project is intended for high school level classes but may be appropriate for college or even middle school levels. The students build the kit using basic electronic tools under the supervision of the teacher. They also construct the special antenna needed to receive the planetary or solar emissions. The antenna requires construction of a basic structure using wood or pipe, ropes, stakes, etc.

Once the kit is completely assembled and tested, the students determine a good time to observe Jupiter based on predictions supplied on the Radio JOVE Web site. Note that Jupiter radio signals can only be received at night, and the conditions are often best in the hours just before dawn. Also, the antenna needs to be set up in a location that is as free from electrical interference as possible. This may be possible near some schools, but it is recommended that observing be done in night-time field trips to locations away from power lines and other sources of interference. If night-time viewing or field trips are a problem, daytime viewing of the Sun at an outdoor location near the school may provide the equivalent observing experience.

The kits cost one hundred dollars each. No profit is involved since the one hundred dollars is approximately the cost of the kit contents, as follows:

1)Arial All parts for the JOVE receiver and a few tools (other basic tools are required).

2)Arial Complete step-by-step instructions for assembly.

3)Arial Antenna parts including cable, wire, and connectors.

4)Arial Complete step-by-step instructions for antenna assembly and setup.

5)Arial CD ROM with chart recorder and spectrograph software and general information.

Discounts of fifty dollars will be offered on the first 100 ordered for classroom or general education purposes. This fee will helpt assure a good start on a group of participants and that we can buy the parts in bulk quantities of 100 or greater. The materials for supporting the antenna are not included in the kit nor are the tools that are necessary to put the kit together, such as a soldering iron, wire clippers, and other typical tools for putting together electrical kits. Many schools may have these materials and tools already, but, if they do not, we estimate they will cost about $60. Recommendations for these tools and materials are in the kit.

In order to be able to analyze the data and share it with others there is also the need to capture the radio data and this can be done by feeding the output of the receiver into a tape recorder or directly into a computer. On a field trip it may be more convenient to use the tape recorder than to carry along a computer, even if you have a laptop. Small tape recorders can be purchased for this purpose, but they must not have an automatic gain control (automatic volume adjustment) or the control must be capable of being switched off since such a control makes it difficult to measure the relative strength of the signals. The cost of recorders sufficient for this purpose are about $70 (Radio Shack Models CTR 69 and CTR 117 are both priced at $70). Software is supplied with the kit that simulates a standard professional chart recorder for plotting the data using a standard 486 or higher model personal computer. The software is contained on a CD that is sent with the kit.

A central web site will accept files of data from observing groups around the country and make them available for schools and scientists to see and hear. The site also contains general information and activities relevant to the understanding of radio astronomy and, in particular, how to order, build, use, and understand the data from radio receiver kits. These web pages are currently under construction and will be fully developed in the summer of 1999.

How can my school, my group, or myself participate?

Fill out the application form which is available at the Radio JOVE website, .. If you have trouble accessing the website or the application, contact Jim Thieman directly.

Jim Thieman
Code 633
Greenbelt, MD 20771
Phone: 301-286-9790
FAX: 301-286-1771

The project has been funded through grants from the GSFC Director's Discretionary Fund and the Initiative to Develop Education through Astronomy and Space Science (IDEAS) administered by the Space Telescope Science Institute.

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Editor:Miranda Beall
Programmer: Erin Gardner
Responsible Official: Dr. Joseph H. King, Code 633
Last Revised: 11 June 1999 [LAP]
Page Activity since October 29, 1998: 273