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The School of Galactic Radio Astronomy: An Internet Classroom


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Title: The School of Galactic Radio Astronomy: An Internet Classroom

The School of Galactic Radio Astronomy An
Internet Classroom
M. W. Castelaz, J. D. Cline, C. S. Osborne
(Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute) D. A.
Moffett (Furman University) J. Case (Brevard High
199th Meeting of the AAS, Session 23.15, 7
January 2002
  • The purpose of SGRA is to teach the basics of
    scientific inquiry, which includes methodology,
    critical thinking, and communication of results
    to students in grades 8-12.
  • Reinforces student use of math, physics,
    chemistry, technology, and computer science.
  • Relies on Internet access to PARIs
    remote-controlled 4.6-m radio telescope.

The Curriculum
  • Consists of modules arranged by topic and by type
    of celestial object.
  • Each module contains the following sections
    Introduction, Observations, Results, and
  • The modules vary in difficulty and depth giving
    teachers flexibility in their classroom
  • All of the SGRA curriculum modules address
    content, teaching, professional development, and
    program standards.
  • All modules use the PARI 4.6-m radio telescope.

Module by Topic
Module by Celestial Object
Description of the Curriculum Modules
Whats Between the Stars?  Students are
familiar with the visible night sky. The goal of
this module is to expand their vision of the
night sky. The introduction to the lab includes
a description of visible images of the center of
the Milky Way Galaxy, or the Orion Nebula. The
students will download the images from the SGRA
website. The observations, using the PARI 4.6-m
radio telescope, will consist of mapping 21-cm
emission from either the center of the Milky Way
or Orion. Results will be a comparison of the
visible and radio maps, and a discussion of the
Detecting Radio Waves  The goal of this module
is to introduce students to the technology of
antennae and receivers, and the basics of
telescopes. The introduction to the module is a
description of electromagnetic waves (e.g.
wavelengths, frequencies, speed of light), and
how an antenna detects an EM wave. The
introduction also describes telescopes as light
gathering instruments that can resolve small
angular sizes. Observations will be made of
several radio bright celestial objects, producing
maps. Results and discussion will emphasize the
detection of the radio waves over vast distances.
Radio Waves from Space  Similar to visible
light, radio waves from celestial objects can be
observed in emission, absorption, or as a
continuum. The introduction to this module
describes the mechanisms for the production of
the radio waves. Observations will be spectra of
a radio emission line object, an absorption line
object, and a continuum source. This module is
different from the others in that it measures
spectra, rather than mapping the spatial extent
of an object. Spectroscopy may be most
appropriate for the upper grades. Results and
discussion concentrate on interpreting the
observations in terms of the different types of
radio wave radiation.  
Mapping  The goal of this module is to develop
mapping and graphing skills, which are important
in scientific inquiry. After an introduction on
the concept of contour maps, students will set
out to observe a radio source (e.g. Orion
Nebula). They will sample the brightness of the
source at regular spatial intervals over the area
of the object. Without the use of a computer,
the students will work together plotting the
intensities by hand, developing a contour map.
Results and discussion center on the contour map
that was produced and how well it represents the
actual object.
Waves and Energy Radio waves carry energy, and
also represent the amount of energy in the source
of radio waves. The goal of this module is to
have the students understand how much energy some
of the celestial radio objects emit. The
students will measure the overall 21-cm
brightness of a celestial object. Results will
use their measurement, and some given properties
(such as distance) to calculate the amount of
energy emitted by the object they observed.
Discussion will compare that energy to the Sun,
and their own local electric company generators!
What Does the Center of the Milky Way Look
Like?  The goal is to compare a 21-cm radio map
of the center of the Milky Way to visible images,
emphasizing the striking differences in visible
absorption and radio emission of electromagnetic
radiation. Observations at 21-cm include mapping
the Galaxys center, and downloading visible
images from the SGRA website. Results and
discussion center on the differences in 21-cm and
visible maps.
Star Formation, Interstellar Dust, and Gas The
goal of this module is to teach students about
the existence of gases and dust in the
interstellar medium, and in particular in regions
of star formation. The introduction includes
visible images of the Orion Nebula and star
formation theories. The students will make a
21-cm map of the Orion Nebula to compare with the
visible images. Results and discussion will
emphasize the extent of the gases and dust, and
the importance in the formation of stars.
Collapsed Stars  The goal of this module is the
study of the last stages of a stars existence.
Students will be introduced to pulsars. The flux
from pulsars is low at frequencies that can be
measured with the 4.6-m radio telescope. So,
data from the PARI pulsar timing project,
measuring the flux from pulsars at 400 MHz using
one of the PARI 26-m radio telescopes, will be
made available for students to download. This is
the only module that does not include direct
observation with the 4.6-m radio telescope.
Results and discussion will center on the
mechanism that can produce fairly regular
millisecond to second pulses from a celestial
Expanding Shell of Matter  The goal of this
module is to measure the extent of a supernova
remnant, and the energy needed to produce it.
Students will map Cas A, one of the brightest
radio sources in the sky, at 21-cm. They will
compare the radio map to visible images, and the
discussion will include the reasons for the
Close to Home The sun and the Earths moon are
bright at radio frequencies. Students are
familiar with both the sun and moon in the
visible. The students will make a 21-cm radio
maps of sun and moon. Results and discussion
will show how such a familiar object can appear
in the radio part of the spectrum.
The 4.6-m Radio Telescope
  • South Carolina State University faculty and
    students, and PARI staff at the 4.6-m radio
    telescope. SCSU PAIR Program concentrating on 4
    technical aspects of Smiley.
  • SCSU is developing
  • Computer Control
  • Web Interface
  • Feed and Receiver Temperature Control
  • Database

Computer Control
Visual Basic 6 GUI developed thus far, in house,
for ease of use
  • 4 Ways to Point
  • Click on map and GO
  • Click on Object in Menu and GO
  • Enter Equatorial or Horizon coordinates
  • Manually with Handpaddle

Track or Drift Mode are available Map shows
where telescope points at all times, and desired
Feeds and Detectors
1420 MHz, 4.8 GHz, 6.67 GHz, 12.2 GHz Feeds and
their spectrometers are controlled by VB6
software interface
4.8 GHz Drift Scan ContinuumMap of SNR 049
Record either continuum or spectrum (up to 4 MHz
Teacher Workshops and Use
  • For a teacher and class to participate in SGRA,
    the teacher needs to attend a 2 day workshop.
    Goals of the workshop
  • Learn how to use the 4.6-m radio telescope on
    site and remotely
  • Learn the basics of radio astronomy
  • Develop proficiency in using the curriculum
  • Develop one original use of the SGRA facilities.

Two workshops planned for Summer 2002, and 2 each
term during the academic year. Accommodate 10
teachers per workshop.
  • To use the 4.6-m radio telescope
  • Teachers schedule time at workshop
  • Teachers logon at their scheduled time
  • Webcam and Website of Smiley is accessible by
    anyone on Internet, but control is done solely by
    teacher logged in.
  • WebSite has four parts
  • Radio Astronomy Basics
  • Control Room (accessed by teacher logged in)
  • Guide Books
  • Log Book

  • Radio Astronomy Basics Includes concepts of
    electromagnetic waves, detection of
    electromagnetic waves, sources of astronomical
    radio waves, how astronomers use radio
    telescopes, and several simple, relatively
    inexpensive experiments teachers and students can
  • Observing The link to controlling the radio
    telescope and making the measurements of 21-cm
    radiation. Controls include options of source
    selection, coordinate entry, slew, set, and guide
    selection, and tracking. We will use free
    software called Virtual Network Computing (VNC
    found at http// to
    allow access to the telescope controls over the

  • Guides contains atlases of the astronomical sky,
    catalogs, examples of observing sessions,
    guidebooks for data reduction, and data reduction
    software that can be downloaded for analysis
  • Logbook primarily a guestbook, but we will
    request comments pertaining to use of the
    facility. The Logbook is one of our sources for
    evaluation of the project.

  • 2001-2002
  • Development of the Interactive Internet use
  • Begin interaction in Spring 2002 with one or more
    local schools to study effectiveness and make
    appropriate adjustments to the program
  • 2002-2003
  • Offer 2 workshops for area teachers during Summer
  • Begin first full year of operation Fall 2002

Acknowledgements We acknowledge the Space
Telescope Science Institute IDEAS Program for
partial support of the School of Galactic Radio
Astronomy. Also, we appreciate the support we
have received from the South Carolina State
University NASA PAIR program for their
development of the 4.6-m radio telescope controls
and detectors. This is a mutual benefit between
the SCSU students and mentors and PARI. We
also acknowledge support from the Z.Smith
Reynolds Foundation for their generous support of
teacher workshops.
Contact Information Michael Castelaz Astronomica
l Studies and Education Pisgah Astronomical
Research Institute 1 PARI Drive Rosman, NC
28772 Phone 828-862-5554 FAX
828-862-5877 E-mail Web
A not-for-profit public foundation