Where Do I Start?

First go to our Frequently Asked Questions area. There, you will find some very basic information concerning radio astronomy and what it is that amateur radio astronomers do. Read it through. It is the best place to set aside many misconceptions you might have.

Arm Chair Radio Astronomy?

Actually, the internet and computers have made it possible to learn much about radio astronomy without ever building or using an actual radio telescope. There are huge databases of information already collected, just waiting to be examined in detail. If you aren't inclined to do hands-on type projects, you still can play an active role in the amateur radio astronomy community.  If this sounds like your cup of tea then you can skip the rigors of electronics and building antennas and jump right in. If you think you might like to build a radiotelescope of your own, read on.

Pass Me the Soldering Iron...

Next, evaluate your own knowledge in fields of radio electronics and astronomy. If you are lacking in understanding of radio principles and electronics, you will have to do a little study in order to have a chance at successfully doing most radio astronomy projects. There are some exceptions, however. Look at the following table.

Jupiter Noise Storms Shortwave and Dipole Ant. Very Little
VLF Solar Flare Monitoring VLF receiver and Ant. Very Little unless you build.
Meteor Studies VHF receiver and Ant. Very Little
HF/VHF Source Detection HF/UHF receiver and Ant. Moderate to Advanced
UHF/MicroWave Preamps/rcvrs/Good Ant. Moderate to Advanced
Pulsar Detection VHF/UHF rcvr/Good Ant Advanced
Mapping/Interferometry Multiple Ant./Rcvrs Advanced
SETI MicroWv/Good Ant/FFT Advanced

Of course, this table is quite generalized. There are some exceptions which should be pointed out. For example it is possible, with enough money, to purchase very good equipment which can be assembled with the appropriate cables into a very nice telescope at any frequency. If you are rich, you won't have to be as smart. Most of us are not rich, so we will need to build some items or at least push the devices we have available to us to the limit of their capabilities. But, hey, that is part of the fun. Also, there is certainly no law that says that just because you are technologically gifted, that you won't enjoy some of the simpler projects. In fact, there may be much to be learned about astronomy, such as sidereal motion, sky coordinates, planetary physics, etc. even if you are an electrical engineer. As a rule, start simple and work up.

How Do I Get the Electronics Background I Need?

There are ots of ways to improve your understanding of electronics without going to college to get an engineering degree. In fact, the kind of practical electronics knowledge you need is often missing in college courses. Click here to see our list of suggestions.


Here Are Some More Tips:

This should give you a rough idea of what is required. Your next step is to gather as much information as possible about the type of project you select. You will find many resources at this site and via our Links Page to other radio astronomy sites. We have books and software for you and are striving to gather more, so check back often. Join SARA, the Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers. Join the SARA Listserver.

Additional Requirements

For all of these types of projects, you are going to need a radio quiet location, or at least a location where the radio frequency interference can be managed by the appropriate techniques.

You are also going to need a way to record your observations and process the data. This is almost always best handled by a computer, though for Jupiter emissions a tape recorder is better. This means you are going to have to get the information into the computer by converting it to a form the computer can read, most often through an analog to digital converter. You can use a sound card for some applications, but not for high resolution, wide band work. See our AtoD Resources area for more info on this.  

What Not to Do

Every week we get emails from people which read something like:

I really am interested in radio astronomy, but I don't know anything about it. How do I go about building a radio telescope?

This is an extremely frustrating situation for us.  We want to help, but if we could launch someone into radio astronomy with a simple email, then we certainly wouldn't have put all this effort into the books, software, and website.  You are going to need a lot of background to get there. No one can hand that to you in one fell swoop. And just think of all the fun you would miss out on if they did! So please don't write to us with such broad sweeping questions! Again we would like to re-iterate, try the Frequently Asked Questions Area first.



Copyright 1999 by Radio-Sky Publishing, All rights Reserved.