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Planet Jupiter Receiver

How would you like to try some basic radio astronomy - listening to the bursts of noise originating from the planet Jupiter, or from the Sun? You don't need a lot of fancy equipment to do this, just the simple shortwave receiver described here. It?s hooked up to a basic dipole antenna (which we describe as well) and to the sound card in your PC, so that you can print out "chart recordings" of the noise signals.

By Jim Rowe

Main Features

The receiver is a single-conversion superhet design tuning from about 20.25-22.5MHz, with a sensitivity of approximately 1mV for a 10dB signal-to-noise ratio. Only three controls are provided: RF gain, tuning and audio gain.

All components are mounted directly on a small PC board measuring only 117 x 102mm, which can either be used "naked" or housed in a standard low-profile ABS instrument case (140 x 110 x 35mm).

The receiver can be powered from either a 12V battery or a mains plugpack supply delivering between 15-18V DC. The current drain is typically between 55-75mA.

There are two audio outputs from the receiver: (1) a line output suitable for connection to the line-level input of a PC sound card and (2) a low-impedance output capable of driving external headphones or a small 8W speaker. Both outputs can be used at the same time.

Mention the term "radio astronomy" to most people, and they’ll either look completely blank or visualise huge arrays of steerable dish antennas – like the one at Narrabri in NSW. Of course, a lot of radio astronomy is done nowadays using these big arrays or huge ‘valley sized’ antennas like the one at Aricebo in Puerto Rico. But it’s still possible to do interesting observations using much simpler antennas and equipment, at "decametric" frequencies (8-30MHz) in the HF radio band.

Click for larger image
The parts for the Jupiter Receiver are all mounted on a double-sided PC board. The top groundplane pattern is necessary to ensure stability.

In fact, a NASA-sponsored project called "Radio Jove" has been promoting this type of radio astronomy for the last 10 years as a science project for high-school students and interested hobbyists. Over 1000 simple receiver kits have been sold, for 20.1MHz reception of noise bursts from the planet Jupiter, the Sun and other objects in the Milky Way galaxy.

There’s only one problem with the US-designed Radio Jove receiver as far as Australian students and hobbyists have been concerned: the receiver kits cost US$155 each plus shipping from the USA, so it will set you back about A$200 to have one sent over here. This has discouraged more than a handful of people in Australia from getting into radio astronomy.

To encourage more Australian students and hobbyists to have a go, SILICON CHIP has developed its own low-cost receiver project. And that’s the background to the new receiver described in this article. You’ll find its basic specifications summarised in the "Main Features" panel but the bottom line is that it’s quite suitable for basic radio astronomy at decametric frequencies around 21MHz. This makes it fine for receiving noise bursts from Jupiter, the Sun or other sources in the Milky Way.

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