Feature

Listening to the Universe
10.22.07
On August 19, 2007, North Carolina high school students closed their eyes and employed their ears to search sound waves snagged from space using their Radio JOVE telescopes. This event marked the 1000th time a Radio JOVE kit had been distributed, constructed and deployed.

Two high school students and an instructor examine telescope components and an instruction manual

North Carolina high school students at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute in Rosman, N.C., examine the components of their Radio JOVE kits before building the telescopes that tune into the universe. Image Credit: NASA

The Radio JOVE Project is an innovative scientific enterprise that challenges middle school, high school and college students to assemble a 20-megahertz receiver and an antenna to capture sounds emanating from Jupiter, the sun and the Milky Way Galaxy. ("JOVE" in Radio JOVE's title is capitalized to mirror conventional radio broadcasting call signs.)

Designed by radio astronomers from NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and the University of Florida in 1997, Radio JOVE telescopes are used to study planetary and solar stellar radio emissions by listening to radio waves. These telescopes are capable of detecting sporadic radio waves created of energy that is released from charged particles trapped within the magnetic field of the sun, a planet, a moon, or a star's galaxy. According to observers, the sounds that one may hear are likened to waves crashing on a beach or the sound of popcorn popping. The study of these radio emissions increases human understanding of planets and stars, most notably their magnetic field and charged particle interactions.

"Through radio astronomy, we want to inspire a number of people to look at the universe in a new way," said Jim Thieman, Goddard scientist and cofounder of Radio JOVE. "The two wavelength bands -- optical and radio -- that can be received by ground-based telescopes reveal a lot about the universe, and Radio JOVE facilitates the understanding that much can be learned through radio as well as optical observations."

Not only do Radio JOVE users learn about radio astronomy, but they must also learn about the building of electronic devices. The radio telescopes, available for purchase online, come in kit form. So an individual must piece together the provided parts, solder wires and erect the antenna. This manufacturing process exposes its users to science, technology, engineering and mathematics in a creative way, enhancing the radio astronomy experience.

While describing the unique traits of Radio JOVE, Chuck Higgins, one of the developers and distributors of the kit, said "There are lots of other ways to explore science, technology, engineering and mathematics, but this approach has never been taken. There is no other program like this where you build it [the radio] and own it. Our goal is to not just inspire radio astronomers, but to inspire kids to pursue scientific fields in college."

The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute in North Carolina received the 1000th kit to be distributed. The event was part of a weeklong workshop for high school students from the western North Carolina area to study of the sun.

Christi Whitworth, Science Educator at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, believes that Radio JOVE is a valuable, multifaceted learning tool. "Radio JOVE provides the student participants the opportunity to work with an instrument as well as conduct observations needed for the study of the sun," said Whitworth. "The entire process of the study falls into the hands of the students who will be conducting it. Participating as scientists from the beginning of the study gives ownership to the results and conclusions developed from the study being conducted."

Whitworth also is certain that Radio JOVE generates user enthusiasm for science. "Students have repeatedly mentioned their appreciation for the skills required to build the instrument, and some have expressed their desire to pursue careers that involve those types of skills. The excitement they show when they use their instrument for the first time is palatable."

Radio JOVE's users learn a lot about radio astronomy, but the knowledge gained doesn't end there. The enhanced understanding continues into other realms of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The process of assembling and operating the instrument teaches and inspires individuals as it presents the study of Jupiter, the sun and the Milky Way Galaxy in an innovative, creative way. Radio JOVE is an established radio astronomy tool that will continue to facilitate increased understanding. As students assemble the next 1000 kits, Radio JOVE will also allow them to continue listening in on their universe.

For additional information on Radio JOVE or to purchase a kit, visit http://radiojove.gsfc.nasa.gov/  →.

Amy Pruett/ Goddard Space Flight Center