Students in at least six states will join California astronomers in a live Internet teleconference Thursday, March 15, to analyze new data about Jupiter's radiation belts, much of it collected by the students using huge radio-telescope dishes operated by remote control from their classrooms.
Since November, students at 25 middle schools and high schools from Alabama to Idaho have been measuring natural radio-wave emissions from Jupiter's atmosphere and radiation belts in a project coordinated by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and the Lewis Center for Educational Research, Apple Valley, Calif. Their results are contributing to the interpretation of some measurements taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft as it flew near Jupiter this winter on its way to reach Saturn in 2004.
The science team is using the data to learn more about the intensity of radiation from high-energy electrons close to Jupiter and to calibrate one of Cassini's instruments that will study radio emissions from Saturn's rings and Saturn's moon Titan. The scientists will hold a team meeting at JPL Thursday and have asked the students to participate over an Internet connection. The public is invited to watch and listen, too.
"We want the students to experience the next stage of the scientific process," said Dr. Michael Klein, JPL's manager of science projects for the Deep Space Network. "Once you collect data, there is still a lot of work to do to analyze and interpret the results. Typically, the team of scientists working on a project meets together to do that, and the students are part of our team for this project."
To collect the data, the students used two dish antennas, each 34 meters (112 feet) in diameter, near Barstow, Calif., at the Goldstone tracking station of the worldwide Deep Space Network, which JPL operates for NASA. The network's antennas serve primarily for communications with spacecraft, but can double as radio telescopes for listening to natural radio-wave sources. One of Goldstone's older antennas has been dedicated to student use coordinated by the Lewis Center. Students also used a second one during the Jupiter observing campaign associated with Cassini's Jupiter flyby.
"The opportunity to do real science provides a tremendous educational experience for the students," said Jim Roller, Lewis Center vice president of science and technology. "Conferring with scientists who are working with the data that the students collected will add an extra dimension for understanding the significance of what they are doing."
Radio emissions from Jupiter's radiation belts change over time. During a few days in January, Cassini was able to measure details of the emissions that are unobtainable from Earth. Measurements that the students and other observers have collected from Earth-based telescopes over a period of several months will help with determining whether Cassini's observations came at a time when overall emissions were typical or a time when they were unusually strong or weak, Klein said.
Scientists participating in Thursday's Internet conference will include Klein and JPL's Dr. Scott Bolton, Dr. Steven Levin and Dr. Michael Janssen. The participating schools are in Alabama, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho and Pennsylvania.
Cassini is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, manages Cassini for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Further information about students' use of the Goldstone telescopes and about Cassini's Jupiter flyby.
NOTE TO EDITORS: A list of teacher contacts at the participating schools follows.
Brewton Middle School, Brewton, Carrie Riggs Brown, (334) 867-8420
Oak Mountain Middle School, Birmingham, Anthony Walker, (205) 682-5210
Sanford Middle School, Opelika, Frank Ware, (334) 745-5023
Mojave Mesa Elementary, Apple Valley, Melissa Face, (760) 242-5883
Vista Compana Middle School, Apple Valley, Linda Smith, (760) 242-7011
Lewis Center for Educational Research, Apple Valley, Dan Dorcey, (760) 242-3514
Ramona Middle School, LaVerne, Mark Rodgers, (909) 394-2036
Redlands East Valley High School, Redlands, Joe Monaco, (909) 389-2500 ext. 4506
Coca Cola Science Center, Columbus, Luther Richardson, (706) 561-8243
COLORADO: Connect Middle School, Pueblo, Lee Hawkins, (719) 542-0224
Lakes Middle School, Coeur d'Alene, Chris Lind, (208) 667-4544
Strong Vincent High School, Erie, Deb Beard, (814) 874-6500
News Media ContactGuy Webster, JPL (818) 354-6278
Craig Campbell, Lewis Center for Educational Research,
(760) 946-5414 x216