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Spring 2013 Newsletter


Rochester Solar Radio Telescope


Astronomy professor, Martin Pepe (AST-201) has just received an educational outreach grant thru the Astronomy Section of the Rochester Academy of Science (ASRAS) to develop a Radio Telescope to study our Sun. This article describes the why, what & how.

Sunspots rise and fall in 11 year (peak to peak) cycles, and are back on the rise, (fig 1, top right) driven by incredibly large magnetic fields on our nearest star.

Those magnificent evening overhead lights (Aurora, top left), are really the result of a high energy stream of charged particles called the Solar Wind emanating from these dark spotty regions on the Sun. Large quantities of these particles are called Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) pushed by the above ‘twisted’ magnetics. It’s hard to believe the Sun loses 10 Million tons of this material each year. They’re no slouches on speed either, traveling at 300 - 800 km/sec (186 – 497 mi/sec) and if it happens they’re pointed at us, it takes them 2 – 4 days to get here! Earth’s magnetic field, traps them and you see them (& hear them on AM radios) when they run into the upper air molecules (O2, CO2, etc.).

While this is a good thing for viewing the northern lights this hyper energy level can cause serious problems, knocking out power lines, communication, TV & weather satellites, etc. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could better understand the engine that drives this phenomenon?

The ASRAS group has just brought online a Solar Telescope (at their 17 acre, 7-observatory, dark sky site in Ionia, N.Y. (right) for looking at visible sunspots. A Sun Radio Telescope enables us to complement this effort, extending down into the radio spectrum.

Is there is a radio emission connection to these ‘dark side’ spots? A working Solar Radio Telescope system, attached to the internet might even act as our own early warning indicator.

Enter the Solar Spectrograph (eCallisto) project. It’s a 7 ft. surplus TV dish, a low noise amplifier (LNA), and modified TV tuner receiver controlled by a regular PC or laptop. The system covers 45 – 870 Mhz, and records 800 samples per second. Sort of like a ‘celestial ‘software defined, or turbo internet radio. One of the problems to solve is data analysis, reduction & noise rejection, each site generates a huge tsunami of data.

How do you manage and display these things you’re interested in? There isn’t an optical image to display (like a CCD camera file - *jpeg or *gif). You have to resort to other methods to show a ‘pseudo’ (false color) image. One method (below left) is a waterfall ‘image’ like in the newer Navy sonar displays (X-axis is time & Y-axis is Frequency). Or maybe a wireframe plot (below right).

There’s an electronic chart recorder called SkyPipe, for studies of single ‘slices’ of data, that acts like the old (hardcopy) paper strip chart recorders some of you may have seen in the lab.

Whatever the final configuration, we are poised to grow into a whole new field combining the best of both worlds, Astronomy & Ham radio. This Solar RT will be the first of its kind in the US (lower 48 & Canada) as part of a worldwide eCallisto radio telescope network. We’ll fill a critical ‘blind spot’ between Europe & Alaska. Our short term plans are to get us on the air with basic first light (image) conditions, then add tracking, local data analysis and an internet connection. Local astronomers and ham radio operators will be developing and building systems, hardware, software, and Labview controls, including an internet connection to the global eCallisto network.

Roberts Connection - This program is designed to be an educational outreach, for mentoring young engineering students that have ‘book’ learning but need some practical build experience to ground them (pun intended) Design & build tasks already consist of 16 smaller elements for this project, and are scaled from freshman to Post-Grad difficulty levels. It’s a great add to a resume for job placement. If you think you’re interested in working on this project, and a technical pre-engineering student or instructor (physics, mechanical, electronics or computer SW), drop me a line and tell me some of your interests and background experiences.

There are 3 major phases of increasing capabilities, we’re starting to order hardware now, and we’ve passed our first two hurdles 1) A build site & 2) grant funding $$.

Look for future articles, and periodic talks on our progress.

Sincerely, Martin Pepe {Pepe_Martin@roberts.edu, Mjpastro@aol.com}


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