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Science & Technology

Under a darkening sky, earthlings tune in to 'Jupiter Radio'

Jupiter System Montage
NASA/ Jet Propulsion Laboratory/NASA
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NASA
Jupiter and its four planet-size moons, called the Galilean satellites, were photographed in early March 1979 by Voyager 1 and assembled into this collage. They are not to scale but are in their relative positions.

Ever eavesdrop on the planet, Jupiter? This past weekend, some radio enthusiasts gathered at Eugene’s Riverfront Field to do just that.

Roughly a dozen members of the Ducks on the Air Amateur Radio Club gathered on the grassy space (making sure to sidestep goose poops) to set up an array of cables and rods called a differential dipole antenna. They managed to assemble it and realign it just before Jupiter appeared on the dusky horizon.

Dipole_Setup01.JPG
Brian Bull
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KLCC
Ducks on the Air Amateur Radio Club members set up the dipole array in order to pick up Jupiter's radio noise.

“We ran out of time, we got it built, let’s do this now,” said Dean Walton, a science and technology professor with the University of Oregon and the club’s faculty advisor.

Jupiter is a radio-emitting object, and so we’re trying to pick up the noise from Jupiter,” he explained to me. Nearby, another member checked the stars and planets with their phone. Jupiter was aligned just where the horizon had begun to darken from a dull orange to a deep indigo.

The solar system’s biggest planet emits what’s called decametric radio signals that can be heard 500 million miles away here on Earth. A small listening radio attached to Walton’s laptop renders different frequencies on the screen, including what may have been Jupiter.

Dean_Scott_Jupiter01.jpg
Brian Bull; NASA On the Commons Flickr.com account
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KLCC; NASA/Flickr
(Top, L:) Dean Walton and Scott Rosenfeld point to radio frequencies on a laptop; (top, R:) Close-up of frequencies, including a centered band that could be from Jupiter; (bottom:) Mosaic of Jupiter's rings, 1998

“I can see on the computer screen a whole series of peaks, some kind of radio noise. Something that is broad like this, could be something like Jupiter,” said Walton.

The clue would be that broad signal disappearing as Jupiter slipped behind the sun for a few weeks. But Walton and others said that will take time to confirm, probably too late for this story. But the team can try again in late March or April, when Jupiter has circled back from its trek behind the sun and towards Earth again.

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