SARA 2014, Best Ever Conference By Stephen Tzikas

Highest ever attendance levels and two Nobel laureate speakers helped make SARA 2014 the best ever gathering of amateur and professional radio astronomers.


Text Box: The Jansky Lab (above) is where the SARA Conference was held.On June 29, 2014 the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers (SARA) gathered at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) for its annual conference.  Counting the Radio Jove part of the week, it was also the longest gathering.  As one young enthusiast noted, “SARA is hot.”   That’s not surprising as SARA is the only amateur organization geared to radio astronomy in the United States, a popular and more challenging area of interest to amateur astronomers that was not so evident to many in the mainstream just a few years ago.  The advent of new low cost electronics is opening the amateur field to many.


Sunday began with the usual session of beginner radio astronomy that is enjoyed and appreciated by the SARA newcomers, as well as by those seeking refresher lectures.  As in previous years, there were many newcomers to the SARA conference forthe first time, including several from foreign nations.  The 40 foot radio telescope workshop was Sunday’s highlight for many, and the dish was available for use throughout the week my SARA members.  Meals provided by the NRAO cafeteria are always tasty.  Outside experiments are set-up each evening.  Those on Sunday were treated to model rocket launches, something new that seemed a good idea for a new tradition in future years.  Following Mondays end of lecture presentations, the much-anticipated annual flea market of electronic equipment occurred.  Drake lounge after-hours are well attended and all appreciate the efforts by SARA volunteersand spouses to make it a success with snacks and quality beverages.  Its not unusual to stay in the lounge past 11:00 PM.  No doubt SARA days are packed experience events from early morning to retirement at night – a full fledge day of activities guaranteed to put one to sleep quickly at bedtime from all the good natured exhaustion.  Attending spouses enjoyed an agenda of outings and tours while the main group of attendees nourished their intellects with lectures.

Text Box: L to R- Carl Lyster, David Cohen, James Thompson and Charles Osborne doing noise figure testing in the Drake Lounge.Text Box: L to R- Ken Redcap, Jerry Espada, Keith Payea and Jay Wilson enjoy refreshments and conversation in the Drake Lounge.

L to R- Carl Lyster, David Cohen, James Thompson and Charles Osborne doing noise figure testing in the Drake Lounge.

L to R- Ken Redcap, Jerry Espada, Keith Payea and Jay Wilson enjoy refreshments and conversation in the Drake Lounge.



By Monday morning all attendees have arrived, including all those who did not attend the beginner sessions on Sunday.  Monday commenced after breakfast with introductions, opening remarks, and announcements. After lunch was the call for nominations, and the evening included a board of director’s meeting open to all.  Tuesday morning brought the election results with a couple of new first time directors.  Executive leadership changed too.  The agenda of the lectures have been posted, so instead of repeating that list, it is perhaps best recapped by the variety of categories offered.  Lectures on Monday and Tuesday fell into the following categories:

Above- Joe Taylor gives his presentation to a full room of enthusiasts.


1. Nobel laureate lectures by John Mather and Joe Taylor.  Dr. Taylor was the keynotes speaker of the conference and part of his talk included how it is possible for amateurs to detect a pulsar with amateur equipment.  John Mather spoke on the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE).


2. General topics, including:

  • SETI
  • The 611 MHz total power radio telescope
  • The role of mass produced antennas and feed on the future of radio astronomy development


3. Demonstrations of technologies, such as the microwave antenna and VSRT demonstrations


4. Electronics and instrumentation applications, including

  • RASDR2
  • SID Monitoring with Raspberry Pi
  • Overview of the Radio Jove project


5. Analytical lectures, such as measuring the field strengths of VLF stations and using fast Fourier transforms in radio astronomy


Besides lectures, there were other events to add variety.  Theannual group photograph, that immortalizeseveryone, was taken on Tuesday and is posted on the SARA website, along with those of all prior years.  Jon Wallace setup a solar telescope for viewing too.  Newcomers to SARA could attend a high tech tour of the grand Green Bank Telescope (GBT) while the seasoned attendees enjoyed a hand-on computer control session with that same telescope. Between lectures at theregistration table, a assortment of radio astronomy items were available for sell – kits, books, and dongles, that would not break the wallet, ensuring all would find something to purchase and take home for further enjoyment.   While the Jansky building and the NRAO had more restrictions than usualthis year due to security enhancements, one could still visit the Jansky lab library.  Its fine collection of journals and university level texts are worth the look for reading material ideas.  The Science Center was, ofcourse, opentothepublic and houses the Starlite café, gift shop, museum, and a variety of research project posters on displayed, many of which completed by students. 






Group photo required shooting and stitching together two photographs to fit all of the attendees in the final picture.

(Photos courtesy of Charles Osborne)


Prior to the end of the conference, the much anticipated door prize session occurred. Everyone gets a ticket to walk-up in priorityorder and grab goodies of significant cost (for those lucky ones called first) to more modest costs but still of appreciative token value (books, antennas, etc).  Throughout the conference, participants constantly utilized the Jansky antenna hook-up in the Drake lounge to run experiments.  Many participants also learned from engaging conversation with others, such as the possibilities with SDR dongles and free on-line astronomy courses at major Universities through Coursera.


SARA looks forward to greeting attendees at next years conference to commence June 21, 2015.  For those who could not attend, a live video streaming was offered by NRAO.  Having left on Tuesday night I had a chance to peak at the Radio Jove conference on Wednesday.  The quality of thevideo and sound was quite good, and is a viable option to keep in mind if ever attendance is not possible.  The annual SARA conference should not be missed.  A welcoming, friendly, group of cohorts awaits your 2015 visit. 


The 2015 Annual SARA Conference is tentatively scheduled for June 21 to 24 at the National Radio Astronomy (NRAO) Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia. More details will be in future Journals and on the web at





L to R-Bill Lord, Ken Redcap, Sam Saroff, Jim Wilson, Jerry Moore, Rick Goodman, Baptiste Cecconi, Sidney Johnston and seated David Saroff with Dick Castle offering advice

L to R- Ohno Toshimitsu, Kazumasa Imai, Keith Payea, Melinda Lord, Chuck Higgins, Jim Wilson look at Scott Lansdale’s (seated) SuperSID (Photo Courtesy- Jim Brown)


Above- Tables filled with door prizes (Photo courtesy of Charles Osborne)   

Above at right- Dr John Mather answers questions after his presentation.

(Photo courtesy of Charles Osborne)




Ken Redcap presents Tom Crowley with award for his service to SARA. Bill Lord at right

(Photo courtesy of Charles Osborne)

    Above Charles Osborne gets ready to launch a rocket

while BogdanVacaluic observes. (Photo courtesy of Charles Osborne)