Have you ever wondered if the stars and planets above us could talk? And if they could, what would they say? Although this question may seem a bit out there, faculty and students in the Physics and Astronomy Department have been hard at work developing a constructed dipole antenna array to observe and analyze radio signals that are emitted from outer space. This project, affectionately named Radio JOVE, focuses on collecting and analyzing radio signals from Jupiter, the Sun, and the rest of the Milky Way. Data collected from Radio JOVE can be uploaded to a NASA database and compared to data that is being collected from similar projects all over the world.
Dr. Todd Vaccaro, Assistant Teaching Professor of Physics and Astronomy, decided to pursue this project here at Ball State to introduce students to building and implementing radio antenna technology, while also teaching a variety of practical skills in the field like data acquisition, data analysis, and dissemination. This project gives students hands-on experience within their program and the opportunity to get involved with worldwide efforts to better understand the universe.
“I love seeing them learn more about the universe and how they can help themselves to learn more on their own in the future. And I love showing them that they can be involved in all steps of the scientific method and share it with others even on a global stage.” – Dr. Vaccaro, Assistant Teaching Professor
A Student’s Perspective
Nicolette Terracciano, a Junior in the Physics and Astronomy Department, first learned about this project during her freshman year. She was told that she would be able to help building the radio telescope and be involved with the research throughout her tenure at Ball State. She “saw this as an opportunity to learn about a subfield of astronomy that [she] knew nothing about.” Through hard work, she realized that investing in this project allowed her to accomplish things she never thought possible during her undergraduate career.
One of Nicolette’s goals when coming to BSU was to get as much hands-on experience in her field as possible. She didn’t want to learn about a topic merely through taking notes or reading about others’ accomplishments; rather, she wanted to be a part of the excitement and innovation in the field of astronomy. When Radio JOVE came up, it was an easy decision to get involved.
“This project is important to me because space is very important to me. I have always loved space and wanted to know every little thing about it.” – Nicolette Terracciano, Junior Physics and Astronomy Student
Nicolette has loved getting to build, set up, and even help refine the software that the telescope uses in order to determine the exact time needed to observe Jupiter and the Sun. Outside of practical skills that apply to student’s future careers, Radio JOVE is actively contributing to the global research community, which is a very unique experience at the undergraduate level. Nicolette and her peers have discovered more than just scientific skills and content – they have learned about their own capabilities as researchers and scholars, which has inspired them to continue their search for knowledge and support others who are interested in this field of science.
“This project has also shown me the power an amateur astronomer has. What I mean by this is that anyone could buy the materials needed to do Radio Jove at home! This is not restricted to the doctoral astronomers. I hope that this project shows that to everyone. You don’t need a PhD or even an undergraduate degree to do astronomy or do astronomy research.” – Nicolette Terracciano
Over the past two years, Nicolette, Dr. Vaccaro and their team have successfully completely construction of the radio telescope, run multiple trials, and made plans to move the telescope permanently to Cooper Farm, where it will have a better view of the sky.
One of the team’s future project is to use the telescope to observe the level of radio signals from the Sun before, during, and after the total solar eclipse of 2024 and combine data with other observers. “Radio observing is not dependent on clear skies, so this will return interesting data, even if we can’t observe the eclipse visually from Muncie,” says Nicolette.
Finally, Dr. Vaccaro hopes to continue to pique student interest in observational astronomy and help the Ball State community develop a deep appreciation for the scientific process in this field.