Highlights of the SARA 2015 Meeting at the NRAO, Green Bank, West Virginia

Author:Ruben Gomez


June 21, 2015 saw the opening of the annual meeting of the Society of Amateur Radio Astronmers at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia.

The meeting was well attended by members with 55 registered attendees, representing states of the United States as far away as Washington state, as well as from many states surrounding the NRAO location. As in years past, the event started on a Sunday, June 21, for newcomers and beginners in the field of Radio Astronomy. Events on this day included a very animated and well-attended Introduction to Radio Astronomy talk by Ed Harfmann. This was followed by a field trip to the 40 foot training radio telescope. The introduction to the telescope was led by Skip Crilly who held the listeners spellbound as he demonstrated his mastery of this insturment. Even though this telescope was originally built in the 1960's, Skip and his colleagues, through their volunteer efforts, have tried to make recent improvements to this instrument by updating some of the cicuits and devices that in some cases have eliminated the need for mechanical switches. Although rain pre-empted outdoor experiment at the end of the day, it did not deter the social hour at the Drake Lounge



Tom Hagen opened the Monday sessions the next day with an outline of the upcoming speakers and topics.



Steve Tzikas, followed with a talk on his on-going efforts in introducing new SARA sections including strategic planning, standarized data collection, methodologies and protocols, and member empowerment via section coordinators and assistant coordinators.



He suggested that SARA should try benchmarking opportunities with organizational structures from other well established amateur astronomical organization. This presentation sparked much interest and discussion from the attendees.

Charles Osborne amazed and awed the crowd with his many photographs, retellings, and discussions of the construction and assembly of the world's biggest offset dish, the 100 meter GBT.



We then witnessed a truly remarkable and inspiring presentation by two high school amateur radio astronomers, Jayasuriya Senthilvelan, and Swagat Bhattacharyya who presented their work and that of their colleagues in which they used the 40 foot telescope and the GBT at NRAO in detection of interstellar molecule OH in W3, W49, and Cassiopeia A.



Ken Redcap graciously gave up his presentation time to allow these remarkable young men time to present their work.

Tom Hagen introduced the Keynote Speaker, Professor Duncan Lorimer of West Virginia University Department of Physics and Astronomy. Professor Lorimer who has studied compact objects such as black holes, neutron stars, and white dwarfs through the study of pulsars. In addition, he focused on the transient radio universe with his work and discoveries on fast radio bursts who he and his colleagues first discovered in 2007. Dr. Lorimar gave a very animated and interesting talk that kept the audience spellbound and asking for more.



He also interacted with the audience members after the talk and was given a commemarative plaque in our appreciation for his work, his efforts and his fine presentation.



After lunch, this year's President, Ken Redcap, called for nominations for officers for next year. This was soon followed by very interesting and engaging talks by Ciprian Sufitchi, on meteor detection using the already commercially available RTL/SDR USB dongle, Tom Hagen, on his efforts on making an easily shipable VLF calibration kit for making magnetic field strength measurements, and Skip Crilly on Shannon Entropy measurements of Radio Telescope Signals.



This took us to dinner, after which, the SARA Board of Directors Meeting occurred. Several important resolutions concerning the RASDR project were passed after extensive discussion of these resolutions by the Board Members. These resolutions should be found in the official minutes of this meeting.



The day was topped off by the nightly social hour at the Drake Lounge.


The next morning, June 23, 2015, the meeting resumed after a delicious breakfast hosted by the always gracious staff of the NRAO employees's cafeteria. President Redcap reviewed for the members at large the results of the Board Meeting of the previous night. In addition, the passing away of one of our much loved and appreciated member, Wolfgang Arnold, was noted. In addition, the abscence of Bill and Melinda Lord was also noted and that their abscence would be sorely missed. In addition, it was noted that Tom and Lynn Crowley were also absent from this years's meeting. Sympathy cards for the family of Wolfgang Arnold and a card of appreciation for Bill and Melinda Lord were passed around to be signed by the members at large. After this, elections for next year's officers were held: the results being that the Treasurer position would be filled by Gary Memory; Secretary position would be filled out by Bruce Randall; Director would be filled out by David Cohen and Charles Osborne; and Director at Large by Stuart Rumley and Jon Wallace.


Two extremely important presentations concerning community outreach and benchmarking this effort by SARA at large then followed. Jay Wilson of the Little Thompson Observatory of Berthoud, Colorado gave an excellent introduction of the establishement of an astronomical observatory run by and for the local community. The observatory having local community members as stakeholders in the project and the project then forming a medium of outreach for the advancement of science in general and astronomy in particular in the community. Many important points from the presenter's experiences in this effort were discussed. This presentation was particulary important for many SARA members who also want to establish such an observatory in their communities.



The next speaker hailed from Athens State University in Athens, Alabama: Dr. J Wayne McCain professor in the College of Business at the school. Dr. McCain works with students in the Management of Technology Department. They get hands-on experience in producing actual working prototypes of industrial products. In this case, he and his students are involved in the JOVE radio activities at the college. He has set up an observatory with kits and antennas assembled by the students in the College of Business.



As an example of the students's involvement in this technology project, one of the students in the program, Benjamin Sublett, gave a short presentation of his analysis of the economic impact and technologic solutions to a potential power grid failure from a sudden and massive solar event. His presentation produced much thought and discussion.



His presentation was followed by lunch. After lunch, Carl Lyster did an outdoor presentation of his results of the H1 line detection using SpectraCyber and a beautifully built horn antenna.



The SARA members next congregated by the Jansky Antenna for the annual group picture.



Back to the Jansky Lab. The members were then divided into subgroups who, under the direction of Sue Ann Heatherly, either went on a tour of the GBT control room and a viewing of the phase array project at the Jansky lab...


...or they went to visit the GBT antenna site.



Finally, David Fields rounded out the presentations with a synoptic presentation of the RASDR group's efforts and results with the RASDR unit.



An open mic session allowed Charles Osborn to give antenna analysis data using a very inexpensive antenna regulator, available on-line, that gave very impressive results. The much awaited raffle of the many items donated by the Lords and others occured. All of the items were raffled away.



After the Raffle, tentative future meeting dates were outlined at this time: The SARA NRAO meeting was tentatively set for July 10-13, 2016 to follow the StarQuest meeting. The SARA meeting West was set for March of 2016 in Prescott, Arizona; and the 2017 SARA NRAO meeting was tentatively set for June 25-28, 2017. Tom Hagen brought the 2015 meeting to a close.