Look and listen to the cosmos to help space scientists

By November 10th, 2010 at 11:14 am | Comment

M72: A globular cluster of stars.  Photo: NASA, ESA, Hubble, HPOW

M72: A globular cluster of stars. Photo: NASA, ESA, Hubble, HPOW

For those of you sleepless people who want to learn a bit about stars and help scientists at the same time, consider joining the Great World Wide Star Count taking place from October 29 through November 12, 2010.

In order to participate, download the star count’s activity guide to determine which constellation you should observe. Once you know what to look for, check out the sky an hour after sunset (7 to 9 pm) and find your constellation. Next, match what you see to the set of magnitude charts (included in the activity guide), and report your observations. You can also look online to see results from previous years of international stargazing.

Once you’re hooked on astronomy, consider joining up with NASA’s Interactive Space Physics (INSPIRE) project to record very low frequency radio emissions. For this project, you’ll need to build your own detector with kits from the website. Some of the radio waves you’ll measure come from naturally occurring sources and are called “sferics” (short for “atmospherics”). These natural waves are often generated by lightning and are also called “tweeks,” “whistlers,” and “chorus.” Are you wondering what lightning sounds like? If you don’t yet have a kit, listen to some sferics here. (Want to hear more? Check out their audio gallery.)

In addition to listening in on nature’s noises, your kit will allow you to monitor human-made radio emissions in the same frequencies. This research helps scientists learn more about how naturally occurring very low frequency radio emissions are generated, as well as how our human-made signals interact with the ionosphere and magnetic fields. This is a unique opportunity to collect data and work with real NASA space scientists on important scientific problems.

If you’re, ahem, inspired, to hear more, check out a recent segment about this program on NASA/Discovery radio.

The Inspire Project Audio Clip

Get outside and take a look up, or listen in!

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