Get a radio telescope kit from Nasa and listen to Jupiter’s magnetic storms. The Radio Jove Project created a do-it-yourself kit with little more than a wire and some basic electronics, but the simple telescope will introduce you to the strange world of radio astronomy.
Amateur radio enthusiasts at Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center launched the Radio Jove Project in 1998. As the tenth-anniversary edition of the Radio Jove Bulletin describes, they wanted a way to bring space exploration into the nation’s classroom and knew that a simple, inexpensive radio telescope could do the job. Sixteen years later the project has sold over 1,800 radio telescope kits to schools and amateurs in 70 countries. The University of Mexico, South Carolina State University, Indonesia’s Bandung Institute of Technology, and other universities use the Radio Jove telescope to introduce students to radio astronomy. Informal educators like the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, the recipient of the 1,000th Radio Jove kit, use Radio Jove telescopes in their outreach programs.
Simplicity drives the Radio Jove Project’s success. Its radio telescope consists of a 7-meter wire strung between two poles. The kit’s assemble-yourself receiver sends an audio output to your computer where Radio-SkyPipe software lets you analyze the signal. The telescope receives signals at the 20.1MHz frequency generated by radio storms in Jupiter’s magnetosphere. Charged particles spiraling through the planet’s intense magnetic field beam of radio waves out into space. Besides observing Jupiter, you can use the Radio Jove telescope to map the galactic background radiation or to monitor solar flares.
Schools that can’t build their own telescope can use the Internet to borrow someone else’s. Windward Community College in Hawaii and the University of Florida stream audio signals of Jovian and solar radio emissions that anyone can use. Students can also download data from the Radio Jove Archive. It holds over 6,000 observations contributed by schools around the world.
The Radio Jove website includes articles and curriculum materials that explain how to build the telescope and conduct observations. Background articles on the science of radio astronomy, Jupiter, and the Sun help place the observations in context. The web-based Radio Jove Bulletin is published twice a year. It profiles school projects and includes accessible articles by professional astronomers about new developments in jovian and solar science. Other participants often contribute articles describing how they have enhanced the basic Radio Jove kit. An email list notifies participants of upcoming radio storms and a Radio Jove Yahoo Group lets participants discuss their observations.
Radio Jove contributes to the outreach program at Nasa’s Juno mission to Jupiter. Participants will conduct coordinated observing campaigns once the Juno space probe arrives at Jupiter in 2015. Teachers attending the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope workshops learn how to build the Radio Jove telescope and use its data in the classroom.