NASA Spacecraft Completed a 40-day Period of Data Collection
April 30, 2001
Guy Webster/JPL (818) 354-6278
Lewis Center for Educational Research/Craig Campbell
(760) 946-5414 x216
A few of the 2,300 students from 13 states who have used
a huge remote-control radio telescope to measure energy from
Jupiter's radiation belts during the past six months will
present their results May 4 to scientists at NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The students' measurements span the period when NASA's
Cassini spacecraft flew near Jupiter four months ago, so they
are useful in the interpretation of radio measurements that
Cassini made to map the invisible belts, said Dr. Michael
Klein, a JPL radio astronomer and science adviser to the
Cassini-Jupiter Microwave Observation Program.
Tracy Sibbaluca, a 14-year-old eighth grader from
Detroit, looks forward to meeting the scientists, but even
more to seeing the big radio-antenna dish in the Mojave Desert
that she helped to run from a classroom computer at Detroit's
University Public School.
"It gave me a lot of confidence because they trust kids
like us with such a valuable telescope," said Arkira Jordan,
14, an eighth grader from Opelika, Ala. "I didn't like science
so much before, but now I like it better."
Those two and 10 other students representing the larger
group from 26 middle schools and high schools will tour the
Goldstone Complex of JPL's Deep Space Network near Barstow
while they are in California this week. The students used a
dish antenna at Goldstone that is 34 meters (112 feet) in
diameter. That dish, the Goldstone-Apple Valley Radio
Telescope, served in Goldstone's main function of
communicating with spacecraft for three decades, but was given
a new role three years ago for student use coordinated by the
Lewis Center for Educational Research, in Apple Valley, Calif.
One of Jordan's classmates at Opelika Middle School, 13-
year-old Chase Cox, said, "When I think about what we're
doing, it's amazing, because we were collecting data that
scientists will be using years from now."
Opelika science teacher Farrell Seymore said the project
has helped his students understand that science is a process
of learning, not a set of facts to memorize. "When you are
studying something real and it's not simulated, things don't
always go the way you expect," he said. "That encourages the
kids to use critical thinking skills and try to figure out
what the problem is. It's a great experience for them." The
Jupiter studies also played into lessons in mathematics,
language skills and history, Seymore said.
Matthew Dillard, 14, a Detroit eighth-grader, said that
the chance to be personally involved in research related to
Cassini raised his interest in what the spacecraft discovers
in coming years. Cassini will begin orbiting Saturn in 2004.
The spacecraft will also release the Huygens probe to drop
through the thick atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
Cassini flew past Jupiter on Dec. 30, 2000, to gain a
gravitational boost toward Saturn, and used that opportunity
to take pictures and measurements of Jupiter and its
Cassini's radar instrument, which shares the main antenna
used for communications and is one of 18 science instruments
on the orbiter and probe, was used in listen-only mode to
measure radio emissions from high-energy electrons in
radiation belts out past Jupiter's atmosphere. Those
measurements allow mapping of the radiation sources in greater
detail than possible from Earth-based observations. The belts
are known to vary over time. Using the Goldstone-Apple Valley
Radio Telescope, the students monitored the radiation belts
from November to March to determine whether the belts were at
a normal or unusual state of activity when Cassini mapped
them. The results indicate the belts' activity was at a normal
level when Cassini passed, but that some changes could be
measured shortly afterwards, said JPL physicist Dr. Scott
Bolton. "These measurements will be useful to help scientists
learn more about Jupiter's radiation belts," he said.
The students will present their findings to Dr. Charles
Elachi, team leader for the Cassini radar instrument, along
with Klein, Bolton, Dr. Steve Levin, Dr. Michael Janssen and
other JPL scientists. As of May 1, Elachi also will be JPL's
new director. The students' visit is sponsored by the Lewis
Center for Educational Research. "These students represent
thousands who have collected valuable scientific information
while gaining an exciting educational experience," said Jim
Roller, the center's vice president for science and
Additional information about the Lewis Center and the
Goldstone-Apple Valley Radio Telescope is available online at:
Further information about students' use of the radio telescope and about
Cassini's Jupiter flyby is available at:
Additional information about Cassini-Huygens is online at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.
The Cassini spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at Saturn in July 2004 to
begin a four-year exploration of the ringed planet and its moons. The
Cassini mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
Calif., for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. JPL is a
division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.