Homebrew Radio Telescope Bags Pulsar

When one mulls the possibility of detecting pulsars, to the degree that one does, thoughts turn to large dish antennas and rack upon rack of sensitive receivers, filters, and digital signal processors. But there’s more than one way to catch the regular radio bursts from these celestial beacons, and if you know what you’re doing, a small satellite dish and an RTL-SDR dongle will suffice.

Granted, [Job Geheniau] has had a lot of experience exploring the radio universe. His website has a long list of observations and accomplishments achieved using his “JRT”, or “Job’s Radio Telescope.” The instrument looks like a homebrewer’s dream, with a 1.9-m satellite TV dish and precision azimuth-elevation rotator. Behind the feedhorn are a pair of low-noise amplifiers and bandpass filters to massage the 1,420 MHz signal that’s commonly used for radio astronomy, plus a Nooelec Smart SDR dongle and an Airspy Mini. Everything is run via remote control, as the interference is much lower with the antenna situated at his family’s farm, 50 km distant from his home in The Hague.

As for the pulsar, bloodlessly named PSR B0329+54, it’s a 5-million-year-old neutron star located in the constellation of Camelopardalis, about 3,500 light-years away. It’s a well-characterized pulsar and pulses at a regular 0.71452 seconds, but it’s generally observed with much, much larger antennas. [Job]’s write-up of the observation contains a lot of detail on the methods and software he used, and while the data is far from clear to the casual observer, it sure seems like he bagged it.

We’ve seen quite a few DIY radio astronomy projects before, both large and small, but this one really impresses with what it accomplished.

[via RTL-SDR.com]

It’s NICER In Orbit

Given the sheer volume of science going on as the International Space Station circles above our heads every 90 minutes or so, it would be hard for any one experiment to stand out. ISS expeditions conduct experiments on everything from space medicine to astrophysics and beyond, and the instruments needed to do the science have been slowly accreting over the years. There’s so much stuff up there that almost everywhere you turn there’s a box or pallet stuck down with hook-and-loop fasteners or bolted to some bulkhead, each one of them doing something interesting.

The science on the ISS isn’t contained completely within the hull, of course. The outside of the station fairly bristles with science, with packages nestled in among the solar panels and other infrastructure needed to run the spacecraft. Peering off into space and swiveling around to track targets is an instrument with the friendly name NICER, for “Neutron Star Interior Composition Explorer.” What it does and how it does it is interesting stuff, and what it’s learning about the mysteries of neutron stars could end up having practical uses as humanity pushes out into the solar system and beyond.

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