GAVRT Project

The GAVRT project gives students the opportunity to use a radio telescope and do real science. DSS-12 (Deep Space Station 12) is located at Goldstone, California. Students use this telescope to work on astronomy projects.

I enjoyed the week I spent learning how to run the GAVRT program. There are four hundred teachers worldwide involved in GAVRT.

We spent three days in class learning about the Project. We first learned about the Campaigns. Next, we learned how to actual run the software to do each Campaign. (You can see DSS-12 live on video.) It was so exciting to enter coordinates and watch DSS-12's 34-meter dish move.

One of the highlights of the week was spending a day at Goldstone. We first saw our telescope shortly after we entered the Goldstone Deep Space Communications Complex. We got off our bus and saw it off in the distance just under "GOLDSTONE" on the mountainside. Most of the day was spent touring telescope facilities. We had the opportunity to go also go inside and see the equipment used to run the telescopes. We also spent some time learning about Mission Control. The highlight of the tour (not counting seeing DSS-12) was seeing the 70-meter (about 230 feet in diameter) radio telescope. That's so large that if you took the dish, set the center right at the common corner where my lot as well as the other three lots meet, it would not only cover all four lots, but it would overlap into the streets.

This is the most active telescope at Goldstone. NASA uses this to keep in contact with current space probes (e.g., Mars Rovers, Cassini, Voyager, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, etc.). Voyager 1 is currently 10,230,000,000 from Earth. Travelling at the speed of light, it takes over 15 hours for a signal to be received from the spacecraft. The signal is very week (less than one billionth of one billionth of a watt). We were told that if you collected all the energy from Voyager 1 for a million years, you would have enough energy to run a light bulb for less than 1/1000 of a second. The 70-meter telescope is still able to collect a signal that week. Amazing!

The GAVRT Project has a number of campaigns they are actively supporting. They include:
  • Jupiter Campaign - Observe, measure, and calculate the temperature of Jupiter. This is done to see how temperature affects Jupiter. This Campaign will expand in 2015. The Juno probe will be launched to Jupiter in 2011. The Mission Scientist, Dr. Steven Levin, told us that he wants GAVRT to collect data for Juno beginning one year before it arrives at Jupiter, the entire year Juno is at Jupiter, and the year after the Juno mission ends.
  • LCROSS Campaign - The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter's 3rd stage as well as the LCROSS probe are schedule to crash into the south polar area of the Moon on October 9th (around 5:30 a.m. MDT). GAVRT helps track the probe.
  • Quasar Variability Study Campaign - Scientists are using data showing how the light of specific quasars (quasi-stellar radio source is a powerfully energetic and distant galaxy with an active galactic nucleus) change over time. This information is important as they collect other information about quasars.
  • Spitzer Campaign - The Spitzer Space Telescope is studying the universe at the infrared wavelength (the wavelength just below red light in the electromagnetic spectrum). The Principal Investigator, Dr. Varoujan Gorjian, is researching the relationship between black hole mass and the radio and IR emission in Active Galactic Nuclei (AGNs). Data collected by GAVRT students was used as a part of Dr. Gorjian's presentation to the American Astronomical Society. The study so far has been inconclusive, but it is continuing.
Educators can also come up with areas of interest (such as pulsars, radio galaxies, etc.) and GAVRT will work to get a scientist at JPL to work with our students.

I'm currently working to form a 6th and 7th grade Radio Telescope Team. I can't wait to begin studying the universe with my students!


Penn and Teller & Psychics

As my wife and I drove to Apple Valley, we decided to spend the night in Las Vegas. We both enjoy Penn and Teller, so we stayed at the Rio where they perform.

I would love to spend an evening talking with Penn and Teller about how they do their tricks. One trick that blew me away was when a person from the audience was brought to the stage. He sat at a table with Penn. Penn held up a plastic cow and asked the guy "Is this a real cow?" He responded, "No, that's not a real cow. It's plastic." This really broke up Penn.

At the end of the act, you can see the guy sitting at the table. Penn says and few things and ends it with "...I am going to swap you with Teller." There's a flash and Teller's sitting at the table. Wow! I have no idea how they made the transfer. I would love to know!

The Best Part of the Show

I particularly enjoyed the part when Penn attacks psychics, mediums, fortune tellers, etc. He "outed" them as the phonies they are. They use parlor tricks to exploit people when they are at their weakest and most vulnerable. He did a couple of tricks and then explained how it was done.

One trick involved a joke book. He handed four books out into the audience and had the audience hand the books to other people. Finally a person gets the book, selects a joke, and stands up with the book open to the selected joke. Penn then asks a few questions and recites the joke.

He explained that he has memorized all the jokes in the books. He then placed them into categories. Each question asked helped him eliminate possibilities. He told us that, while he was questioning, the guy gave subtle head movements - yes when Penn was moving in the right direction; no when Penn was moving in the wrong direction. The head movements, he said, were very common. We all do it.

Penn said he can do anything a psychic can, but without the supernatural claims. It is up to the others to prove that they have special powers and aren't using the tricks Penn used.

As a science teacher, I particularly enjoyed this part of the show. Too many people accept the supernatural (psychic power, telekinesis, etc.) as explanations for common everyday things. I wish everyone could see this performance and understand how these people take advantage of others, especially those like John Edwards who claims he can communicate with the dead.

Virtually all these people refuse to do their thing in front of people like Penn and the Amazing Randi. They know their tricks and can easily point out the fraud.

If you ever have a chance to see Penn and Teller live, do it! It was an enjoyable show.


GAVRT Program

It’s hard to believe summer’s over and school starts on Monday. I still have mixed feelings. If I had my “druthers,” I would prefer to start after Labor Day. Oh, well. They didn’t ask my opinion!

Last week I had the opportunity to learn how to use a radio telescope in the classroom. The program is GAVRT (Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope). The story how they came to run the telescope is quite interesting.

A teacher at the Lewis Education Center in Apple Valley, CA, held a star party for his students and issued an open invitation for anyone at the school to attend. He expected about 40 people and had four or five telescopes. He had over 400 people attend. A few days later, he heard that NASA had decommissioned a radio telescope. He decided that because of the interest in astronomy, a radio telescope would be a great addition to the school. He had a pick-up and a trailer and arranged for another person with a pick-up and trailer to go with him to get the radio telescope, if he was able to get it.

He wrote NASA asking them to donate the radio telescope to the Lewis Center. For some reason, NASA considered the request. The contacted Goldstone (about twenty miles from Barstow, CA) and asked them to make arrangements.

What he didn’t realize was he was dealing with a radio telescope with a 34 meter (110 feet) diameter dish. Obviously, there was no way to move the radio telescope. Instead, NASA and JPL kept ownership of the telescope, but allowed GAVRT to run the telescope.

Now, our school is now an official participant in GAVRT.

I’ll mention more about GAVRT in later postings.