2011 Annual Conference Abstracts- Updated 6/12/11

The following abstracts will be presented at the 2011 SARA Annual Conference in Green Bank, West Virginia.

An Introduction to the Interstellar Medium and Amateur Tools for Observation
Tom Crowley

Abstract: This paper provides an introduction to the Interstellar Medium (ISMi) The ISM is the gas and dust the pervade interstellar space and exists between the star systems that make up our galaxy. The ISM is made up of an extremely dilute mixture of ions, atoms, molecules and larger dust particles. The brighter HIi and HII areas along with Gould's Belt will be discussed.

Observational techniques which the author has used to observe the ISM HI and HII regions will be reviewed along the success and failures.

Processing Data from the Phase Switched Interferometer
By Bruce Randall WD4JQV
Abstract: A radio telescope can produce massive amounts of data. Processing the data is necessary to produce graphs and pictures for display. Problems include data cleaning to remove interference. A non-linear spike filter to remove bursts of strong interference is discussed. Software adjustment of integration time and other filtering are also shown. Pascal programs were used to process Excel compatible .csv files.
Excel and MathCAD were used to produce the final display output.

Detection of Jupiter Radio Emissions well below the Plasma Cutoff Frequency: Implications for SID Monitoring
David E Fields and Nicola Tesla (in Memorium)
Tamke-Allan Observatory
Roane State Community College
276 Patton Lane
Harriman, TN 37748

Abstract: It is usually taken as a first principle of planning radio astronomical observations that monitoring must be carried at frequencies above both the ionospheric plasma cutoff frequency (about 3 MHz) and the electron gyroresonant frequency (about 1.4 MHz). Before space probes were employed, radio astronomy studies were almost entirely done above 6 MHz, and this value is considered a practical limit by most radio astronomers. Furthermore, daytime ionization (especially D-layer formation) places additional constraints on wave propagation, and waves of frequency below 10 - 20 MHz suffer additional significant attenuation.

More careful calculations of wave propagation through the earth’s ionosphere suggest that for certain conditions (primarily the presence of a magnetic field) there exists a transmission window well below the above limits. Indeed, for receiving extra-terrestrial radiation below the ionospheric plasma cutoff frequency, a choice of VLF frequencies appears optimal to minimize loss. This calculation and conclusions will be presented.

Might it be possible to detect Jovian signals through this VLF window? Existence of the VLF window has been confirmed by satellite monitoring experiments in 1961 at a frequency of 18 KHz, which demonstrated an ionospheric attenuation ranging between 4 and 29 dB. A theoretical upper limit of about 2dB attenuation is possible. Furthermore, Jovian VLF radiation source intensity from the Io plasma torus was measured by Voyager I and found to be of the order of 10e7 Jy. Conditions necessary for using this transmission window for radio astronomy are nighttime observing (low ionic number density); choice of a suitable frequency; proper orientation of the source direction with respect to the (earth’s) magnetic field; accounting for QRN from terrestrial atmospheric effects and QRM from military transmitters; a receiver sensitive enough to reach the quiet atmospheric noise level, and careful choice of antenna (right-hand circular polarization).

A single dedicated observer has apparently met these conditions and observed Jovian VLF radiation. Details of his observation will be presented as a stimulus to SID (Sudden Ionospheric Disturbance) receiver users.

Modulation from Acoustic Interference Structures Appearing in Solar Radio Emissions
David E Fields and John C. Mannone
Tamke-Allan Observatory
Roane State Community College
276 Patton Lane
Harriman, TN 37748

Abstract: Short-lived acoustic interference structures have been noted and recorded in earth’s atmosphere during supersonic rocket launches. We have observed analogous transient structures in video images of the sun’s chromosphere during supersonic coronal mass ejections. We have estimated the wavelength and frequency of the acoustic waves that produce the observed solar interference structures, and expect that these acoustic waves might modulate the plasma radio emission at a predictable comb of frequencies. A data-capture, digitization and analysis process has been devised to capture RF data emitted during these relatively brief acoustic interference events. If the RF data show modulation only when the interference structures are present, then we can infer the causal connection. Initial efforts are underway to collect and analyze these data. We hope that we will be able to verify the presence of solar RF modulation in the expected band, and to correlate this with the appearance of interference structures.

A Mobile Solar Observatory
Christopher Queen* and David E Fields
Tamke-Allan Observatory
Roane State Community College
276 Patton Lane
Harriman, TN 37748

Abstract: A Mobile Solar Observatory that is interactive and utilizes current multimedia technology has been constructed. The observatory, built inside a 6x9 foot enclosed trailer, is being used initially as an educational exhibit at different school functions, youth organizations and community events in East Tennessee. The sun is introduced to students using optical and radio telescopes. Radio Jove (for Solar monitoring) and a SID receiver (recording Ionospheric conditions) are installed, and are complimented by a Ku-band receiver, an 8” SCT telescope and two narrow-band optical telescopes with video output. The MSO is also useful for night-time stargaze events. PowerPoint presentations can be shown on the internal rear-screen projection system. The Observatory is totally enclosed for transport, but a multi-turn loop and a Moxon antenna are deployable for demonstrations and for long-term observing. It is anticipated that the observatory, which is equipped with battery backup power, will also be used for observations from remote (low-noise) locations.

*Chris Queen has been chosen NASA Space Science Student Ambassador.

Radio Astronomy at Morehead State University
Jeff Kruth

Abstract: The paper focuses on home built systems (which perform well), projects and results for the 21 Meter as well as some of the student efforts. It presents a semi historical review with emphasis on real hardware that was built at Morehead State University. The receivers are in use by students.

A Continuing Campaign of Radio Monitoring Observations of Blazars with the Morehead State University 21-Meter Space Tracking Antenna
Caleb Grimes
Undergraduate Researcher at Morehead State University Space Science Center
107 Metcalf Mill Road, Ewing, KY 41039

Abstract: Blazars are galaxies which have a central supermassive black hole that ejects jets of concentrated photons toward the Earth as a result of the galaxy's orientation. Blazars are known to experience variations of emission over a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum. In an on-going campaign the Morehead State University 21meter Space Tracking Antenna is observing such variations on differing timescales in an effort to further understand the underlying characteristic of emission variability at both L-band and Ku-band. By analyzing the variability of blazars we will be able to determine whether the models for the respective blazars account for these observed emission variations.

Position Sensors for a microprocessor controlled Antenna Mount
Paul L. Oxley
Vice President – SARA

Abstract: This paper describes the author’s continuing work integrating digital position sensors (Inclinometer and Compass) into an ASCOM compatible pan and tilt antenna mount. The position sensors are intended to provide a loop closure on the motion process. The basic ASCOM Pan & Tilt operation was presented at last year’s SARA annual meeting.

Spectral Analysis: A Key to Unlock Secrets of the Sun
John C. Mannone
SARA Editor
1574 CR-250
Niota, TN 37826

Abstract: Spectral analysis techniques in amateur radio astronomy may be valuable in collegiate classrooms. Several examples are presented. First, the solar rotation period can be extracted from sunspot number variation. Second, digitally sampled terrestrial VLF signals by Sudden Ionization Disturbance (SID) monitors, point to the differing processes in the ionosphere during sunrise, sunset, and throughout the day. Spectral data are consistent with photo ionization and recombination rates leading to the formation and dissipation of the D-layer. Other examples include test the hypothesis that HF data (20 MHz) from the sun during solar flares should disclose additional information on the physical processes in the sun.

50 MHz Observations of the Galactic Plane
John Younger

Abstract: Because of its popularity in amateur radio and the availability of high-quality antennas, the 6 m band is an attractive choice for observations by amateur radio astronomers. I'll discuss my experience over the past year designing, constructing, and testing a Yagi-based 6 m telescope with zero- to fifty-degree elevation capability. An approach to assembling a sky map with data from the instrument will be presented, focusing on measurements of the galactic center and estimating the tilt of the galactic plane relative to earth.

Radio Astronomy Software Defined Receiver Project
Marcus Leech
Paul Oxley
Richard Flagg
Bogdan Vacaliuc *
David Fields

Abstract: The paper describes a Radio Astronomy Software Defined Receiver (RASDR) that is currently under development. RASDR is targeted for use by amateurs and small institutions where cost is a primary consideration. The receiver will operate from HF thru 2.8 GHz. Front-end components such as preamps, block down-converters and pre-select bandpass filters are outside the scope of this development and will be provided by the user. The receiver includes RF amplifiers and attenuators, synthesized LO, quadrature down converter, dual 8 bit A/Ds and an FPGA that provides firmware processing of the digital bit stream. RASDR will interface to a user’s PC via a USB or higher speed Ethernet LAN connection. The PC will run software that provides processing of the bit stream, a graphical user interface, as well as data analysis and storage. Software should support both Windows and Linux platforms and will focus on such radio astronomy applications as total power measurements, pulsar detection, and spectral line studies.

*Bogdan Vacaliuc, R&D Staff, MSSED/Electronics and Embedded Systems Group Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Die, Mr. Noise, DIE!
Tom Hagen, Dave Benham
McMath-Hulbert Solar Observatory

Tom and Dave of the McMath-Hulbert Solar Observatory in Lake Angelus , MI , will talk on noise issues at VLF with respect to running the SuperSID. Tom and Dave have been running a SuperSID since April, 2010, and have been faced with both common and unusual noise issues, some solved, some not. Dave has mentored SuperSID users and Tom and Dave developed the “Comberator”, a small, inexpensive signal generator that may be used to test the operation of the sound card, the SuperSID and the antenna – this will be demonstrated. Sometimes noise issues have more to do with faulty setup. Sometimes they have to do with noisy neighbors like a megawatt multi-turbine power plant, or DSL, or leaky cable systems. Dave is chair of the VLF Noise Reduction Committee and administrator of the Yahoo VLF Noise Reduction group. Use of the freeware Spectrum Lab software will be discussed which every SuperSidder should use. Their history with VLF noise reduction will be reviewed and some general recommendations made.

An Advanced Riometer platform based on SDR Techniques

Marcus Leech
Keo Scientific

Keo Scientific

Titus Matthews
Keo Scientific


We describe a new riometer (Relative IonosphericOpacity Meter) platform based on the latest Software Defined Radio techniques, and show how these techniques offer distinct advantages over traditional, analog, riometers.

Sky Scan -A Radio Astronomy Education Program
By David Cleary
The Sky Scan program is a partnership between the Department of Physics at the University of Alberta (U of A) and the Edmonton Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). The program ran in ten Edmonton, Alberta area schools between 2002 and 2005. It’s purpose was to provide a ―real science‖ experience to students studying astronomy in the Space Exploration unit of the Grade 9 curriculum using modified FM car radios, a yagi antenna, and Radio Sky Pipe software to observe meteors. To do so we developed a website (skyscan.ca) with learning and reference materials, plus how-to information on building an FM meteor detector. Project staff worked with over 800 students over 3 school years. Most notably, schools observing the 2002 Leonid meteor shower produced results clearly showing the time of the shower peak that were cited by Dr. Robert McNaught of the Australian National University. The results of the earlier years are being used to launch a revamped version of the program in the fall of 2011 to Grade 6 and 9 science classes in the greater Edmonton area. The new program is a multi-faceted one featuring a major role for the U of A in offering school field trips to their new observatory. In addition to the already proven FM meteor detectors new inquiry based learning programs using SID receivers, and optical telescopes - both remote and supplied by the RASC - are being developed for use in schools.