Students build radio telescope


Jason Robinson works a radio telescope for listening in on Jupiter. (Ezekiel Ferguson)

Several months ago a group of students were pitched an idea by their Physics teacher Gregory Grist during a period in time where they were learning about radio waves.

The idea being to build a radio telescope and use it to collect data from Jupiter. What first started as an honors program requirement later turned into an extensive data gathering research project.

This kind of experiment is common in schools across the country in both the college and high school level, but to the best knowledge of the students and instructor, it had not been done at Skyline, which made for a memorable experience.

“I presented the students and they thought it would be a fun experiment to do and they ran with it, overall since they did 99% of the work,” said Gregory Grist.

These students being no stranger to radio waves, as they all were studying to earn their FCC amateur radio license, accepted the idea as promising to them.

“I just thought it was a cool idea,” said Young Park, one out of the three students. “We were taking Grist’s class and when we were presented with the idea, we liked it so much we just went with it.” His enthusiasm came from the idea that not everyone gets to ‘hear’ Jupiter

Well after the class these three students continued to work on this project. In time their hard work came to flourish as they built a radio receiver with the ability to pick up various signals. More notably signals from Jupiter. Soon after the team quickly used the device to start data collecting.

In order for the students to do this experiment they needed a radio telescope, a device which can best be described as small radio which can be tuned to change what kind of frequencies it can pick up.

Frequencies ranging from planets to signals on earth. For example according to Young “There is a signal that comes out of Boulder Colorado” (A naval test signal) “And when we adjusted the radio we were able to pick up on its frequency in the form of ticking sounds.”

Funding for the experiment came from Michael Williamson, the Dean of Science/Mathematics/Technologies

“I was the one who asked Michael Williamson for funding of the project, which we thankfully got,” said Grist. “I purchased the kit, and in a couple of Saturdays the radio was built.”

The main goal of the experiment according to Ezekiel Ferguson, one of the students in the project, was data collecting by way of signals from Jupiter.

The group of students explained that Jupiter was an obvious choice as it gives off every kind of frequency.The device was specially tuned to pick up on its 20 Mega hertz, which it gave off the most.

“Jupiter has the strongest emitted signals,” said Ezekiel. “Because it is so big it can pull harder on its moons as far as tidal forces. The moons are volcanic so the moons spit out particles that can get charged and when they hit the atmosphere, they rub Jupiter themselves and cause radio waves.”

Once it was established on what kind of signals and from where the team would be collecting them from, the team focused on making the radio from the kit provided and keeping to a schedule of time in which to actually collect the data.

“We built the thing in about 8 hours,” said Ezekiel. “Then from there it was all gathering data for two hours a day.”


Which was not easy according to Jason Robinson, the team member who helped with the experiment and was in charge of coordinating and scheduling.


The biggest hurdle to jump through this experiment according to the students was not finding Jupiter’s frequency, which according to Ezekiel was done “right off the bat”, but getting up at 3:00 to 3:30 in the morning to collect data.

“The reason we had to get up so early is because there was a narrowing view in which we can get signals from Jupiter” said Jason Robinson “The signal has to be above the horizon of earth to get a good reception and this has to be done before sunrise because of the suns interference”

In the end not only were their experiments successful in that they got clear signals from Jupiter but their findings was deemed worthy enough to get presented at Berkeley.

“The experiment went so well in fact that they got to present their project at the Bay area honor Symposium at Berkeley” Grist said. “They submitted a proposal to present at the symposium and were selected by a review committee; they were one of 81 selected out of 129 submitted from Northern California community colleges.”