[Michael] sent in a question regarding the latest advances in software defined radios available for $20 on eBay:
I’ve been looking in to SDR lately, mainly for the possibility of using it for incredibly cheap radio astronomy. So far all I’ve found are whispers. I’m 18 and have very little experience, but I figured you might be able to help me find a little more info.
This really brings me back, [Michael]. I saw Contact in the theater (surprisingly, a rare case when the book and movie are equals), and in my childish exuberance went out and listened to lightning on Jupiter. The financial difficulties of expanding my setup meant the experiments stopped there, but at least I knew amateur radio telescopy was possible.
The latest and greatest advance in software defined radio – namely, a $20 TV tuner dongle – brings something new to the table. Instead of the thousands of dollars in gear that was required in 1997 when I last looked into this, it’s possible to set up a passable radio telescope for under $100.
I’ll leave it to the Hackaday commentors to fill [Michael] in on the details, but here’s my suggestion:
Optimize your setup for 1420 MHz. There are three reasons for this: firstly, very few things in the universe absorb radio waves at a frequency of 1420MHz; there’s a reason it’s so often used in radio astronomy. Secondly, most government agencies around the world ban (or at least don’t look too kindly upon) transmitting on 1420 MHz. This frequency has been somewhat protected for use by astronomers. Thirdly, most of the Realtek TV tuner dongles have a frequency range of 64 – 1700 MHz, so it’s possible to receive 1420 MHz with this minimal setup.
As far as antennas go, your best bet is probably going to be one of those old C-band parabolic antennas from the 80s. That will make your telescope highly directional and give it a huge amount of gain. There is the problem of having a 20-foot-wide eyesore in your back yard, however. Alternatively, you could use a smaller DirecTV satellite dish, but I’m not making any promises with that. It’ll work, but it’s too small for an optimal setup.
I’ll concede the floor to anyone who has additional information. If you’ve built a radio telescope, send it in and I’ll put it up.