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November 19, 2010 > NASA's Space Place: Doing real science with NASA

NASA's Space Place: Doing real science with NASA

You can move an object that weighs 850,000 pounds with one finger. Really.

This weighty object is a huge telescope-a radio telescope. Most telescopes are like really sharp eyes for looking at the light from stars and planets. This telescope is more like a super-duper ear that hears another kind of "light" from space called radio waves. Using just your mouse finger-and your brain-you can turn and tilt this telescope. You can control it to help scientists make new discoveries. And you may be able to do it right from your own school.

Several years ago, this particular radio telescope was used to communicate with NASA spacecraft as they explored the solar system. Now NASA no longer needs it, and has given the telescope to a special school so that students can learn to use it and understand what real science is all about. Now the telescope is called the "Goldstone-Apple Valley Radio Telescope."

The telescope sits solidly in the Southern California Mojave Desert. The school, called the Lewis Center for Educational Research, is quite a few miles away. You can't even see the telescope from the school. But that doesn't matter, because the students operate the telescope using the internet.

What's more, students all over the USA operate this telescope using the internet! Teachers come to the Lewis Center to learn all about the Goldstone-Apple Valley Radio Telescope and about radio astronomy. Then, they go back to their schools and teach the students. Together, they work with real scientists and do real astronomy research.

So far, students all across the country have used telescope to make brand new discoveries about gas giant planets Jupiter and Uranus, about quasars (mysterious objects that put out more energy each second than our Sun does in 200 years), about black holes, and about the Moon.

You and your teachers can learn more about the Goldstone-Apple Valley Radio Telescope program at Meanwhile, play "Uplink-Downlink" at, and see how these big radio telescopes communicate with NASA's solar-system-exploring spacecraft.

This article was written by Diane K. Fisher and provided courtesy of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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