ISU Radio Telescope Observatory
Apart from the historically available window to the Universe at visible light, the discovery in the 1940s of radio emissions from the sky has lead to the development of Radio Astronomy as another essential means to study celestial objects. Observations in this frequency domain provide a substantial complement to optical observations, as is exemplified by the discovery of new classes of objects such as pulsars, quasars, and radio galaxies, the detection of the widespread presence of simple and complex molecules in interstellar space, and the discovery of the cosmological microwave background, one of the evidences for the 'Big Bang' model of the Universe.
The Radio Telescopes at ISU give students the opportunity of performing observations as well as the necessary analysis, which introduces them to typical techniques of astrophysical research and gives them a first-hand experience in the study of the invisible Universe.
Observations of natural radio emissions have been instrumental to enhance our knowledge not only of the Earth atmosphere and ionosphere, the structure and activity of the Sun and its relationship with the Earth, but has opened up an entirely new window in the classical discipline of Astronomy.
Radio Astronomy also provides an excellent educational opportunity, since it combines the technology of radio communications, weak signal detection techniques, and the sciences of physics and astronomy. ISU currently operates several Radio Telescopes at different wavelengths, with which students can explore different aspects of natural radio emissions:
• INSPIRE VLF Receiver:
At Very Low Frequencies (below 10 kHz), a receiver similar to that of the NASA-supported INSPIRE project (http://theinspireproject.org/) is operated. Radio impulses produced by lightning as far as the Southern hemisphere can be detected at this frequency and are an essential source to study the Earth's higher atmosphere.
• Radio JOVE Receiver
Near to the top end of the short-wave region, at 20 MHz, the Radio JOVE receiver (http://radiojove.gsfc.nasa.gov) is operated. Radio JOVE is a project promoted by NASA that aims to bring the sounds of radio eruptions of the Sun and magnetic storms of Jupiter into the classroom.
Throughout continuous observations, numerous solar radio bursts and disturbances of the Earth ionosphere caused by solar eruptions have been detected. More information can be found at http://astro.u-strasbg.fr/~koppen/RJove/.
• ESA Haystack Radio Telescope
At a wavelength of 21 cm (1.42 GHz frequency), hydrogen atoms emit a strong spectral line, which allows radio astronomers to detect this element, the most abundant on the Universe.
The Haystack Observatory, run by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), developed a Radio Telescope for educational purposes, consisting of a 2.3 meter diameter standard satellite dish antenna (http://www.haystack.mit.edu/edu/undergrad/srt/index.html). Such an instrument has been donated to ISU by ESA and is being made operational in 2009. This new asset, named ESA-Haystack Radio Telescope, will provide the students with the opportunity of performing observations of astronomical objects even outside the Solar System.
• ESA-Dresden Radio Telescope
The satellite television Ku-band (10-12 GHz) is suitable to perform observations of the Sun and the Moon, using conventional material, such as a 1.2 meter parabolic dish, placed on the roof of the ISU building.
This telescope, developed under ESA contract by the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits in Dresden for use in schools, has been given to ISU by ESA. It is capable of providing properly calibrated data, and hence allows to determine the surface temperatures of the Sun and the Moon. Since its in-depth testing by ISU Masters students, it has been extensively used in the framework of workshops and individual student projects.
With the ESA-Dresden Radio Telescope the students can experience and perform all the necessary steps from observation, calibration and data reduction to the interpretation and evaluation of the results. More information can be found at http://astro.u-strasbg.fr/~koppen/10GHz/.