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When a giant radio dish entered service with NASA in 1994, its main job was to track SOHO, a spacecraft that watches the Sun. Today, one of its main jobs is to study the Sun itself. It’s the centerpiece of GAVRT — Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope — a project that’s turned control of the telescope over to students.

The 112-foot dish is in the Mojave Desert. It’s part of NASA’s Deep Space Network, which stays in touch with spacecraft throughout the solar system and beyond.

Network antennas are also used as radio telescopes. And that’s the full-time job of this antenna. It retired from the spacecraft-tracking business years ago. It took over for another antenna that had been used for GAVRT. Today, students around the country, from elementary through high school, help select its targets, move the dish, gather data, and analyze the results.

There are several main projects for GAVRT. One of them is studying the Sun. The observations can help determine how the Sun generates space weather — interactions between the Sun and Earth’s magnetic field. Space weather can knock out satellites, shut down power grids, and cause other problems.

Other projects monitor the radio waves produced by jets of particles shooting away from black holes; study the magnetic field of Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet; and even listen for radio signals from other civilizations — big science from a “retired” radio dish.

Script by Damond Benningfield

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