Category: Applications

A Talk on 21cm Hydrogen Line Amateur Radio Astronomy

The Amateur Radio Experimenters Group (AREG) recently held an online talk with guest speakers Phil Lock and Bill Cowley, talking about amateur radio astronomy. In the talk they note how they use an RTL-SDR as their radio.

Cheaper electronics has created great possibilities for Amateur Radio Astronomy. This talk will describe a local project to receive and map the distribution of 1420 MHz signals from neutral hydrogen in our galaxy. We briefly describe the history of 21cm RA and why it’s still of great interest to astronomers. We outline some challenges over the last few years in assembling a 2m dish with custom feed, electronics and signal processing, then show recent results from our project.

The image in the thumbnail shows recent signals (May 17th) recorded over a 24 hour period for dish elevation of 53 degrees. The signal changes as the antenna points to different parts of the Milky Way.

https://www.areg.org.au

21cm (1420MHz) Amateur Radio Astronomy

Open Weather: An Artistic Performance Involving Live NOAA APT Signal Decoding for Sound Arts Festival

Just after our post a few days ago about an art project involving weather satellite reception with SDRs, we received a story submission about an artistic performance with similar weather satellite and SDR themes. The submission from Sasha Engelmann reads:

Open Work, Second Body is a live-streamed performance by designer Sophie Dyer (@sophiecdyer) [M6NYX] and geographer Sasha Engelmann (@sashacakes) [M6IOR] in collaboration with the author Daisy Hildyard. The work was performed twice during Reveil 2020, a global sound arts festival streaming sounds from listening points around the planet on the day of the International Dawn Chorus.

Open Work, Second Body asks: From the climate crisis to coronavirus: what are the tools we need to make sense of events unfolding on vastly disparate scales? Through spoken word, field recordings and live radio reception of two NOAA satellite images, the work probes the porous boundaries between our bodies, local atmospheres and weather systems.

Still image capture from livestream of Open Work, Second Body, AM performance, May 2nd 2020

Due to lockdown constraints in London, Sophie and Sasha were not able to be in the same place or to leave their apartments, so they performed the work via simultaneous streams from their respective balconies in South East and North West London. Using RTL-SDRs, Turnstile antennas, Open Broadcast Software and collaborating with two NOAA satellite passes, Sophie and Sasha shared the process of decoding NOAA satellite images with hundreds of viewers around the world, employing spoken word poetry and field recordings to complicate relationships of local and global, weather and climate, the individual and the collective. 

Recordings of the performances can be found at the links below. 

☀️Morning: https://youtu.be/-5JrxwNpJqI [performance starts at 05:25]
🌤️ Afternoon: https://youtu.be/h88zaCtX8cw [performance starts at 05:00]

Still image capture from livestream of Open Work, Second Body, PM performance, May 2nd 2020
Still image capture from livestream of Open Work, Second Body, PM performance, May 2nd 2020

Open Work, Second Body is part of Sophie and Sasha's larger artistic research and design project Open Weather, which employs ham radio, open data and feminist theories and approaches to build new and diverse communities around satellite image decoding and weather sensing. The Open Weather web platform will be launched in Summer 2020 and will host an archive of SDR-generated weather images, visually rich how-to guides for those with no radio and engineering experience, and material about Sophie and Sasha's collaborative artistic practice. 

For Open Work, Second Body, Sophie and Sasha would like to thank the Soundcamp Team: Grant Smith, Dawn Scarfe, Christine Bramwell, Maria Papadomanolaki and Ciara Drew. They are grateful to Daisy Hildyard for her willingness to be in conversation with them, Bill Liles NQ6Zfor technical advice, Jol Thoms for sound design, Rachel Dedman, Laure Selys and Arjuna Neuman (Radio Earth Hold) for early curatorial input, Akademie Schloss Solitude for the support of a residency, the satellites NOAA 18 and NOAA 19 and the RTL-SDR and wider ham radio community. 

http://www.sophiedyer.net

http://www.sashaengelmann.com

It's very cool to see technical hobbies like ours starting to make an impact in art and reaching a wider audience. More content and images available on Sophie's Open Weather webpage, and Sasha's Open Weather webpage

Open Weather Live Stream

Understanding, Listening and Recording Trunked Radio Systems with an RTL-SDR and Trunk-Recorder

Trunked radio systems for voice communications can be easily found when browsing the spectrum with an SDR. Listening to a voice communication is easy, but actually following a conversation along is almost impossible to do manually. This is because in a trunking system the frequency in use during a conversation can change often. The frequency of the voice is dictated by a control channel that all radios listen to. This allows multiple talk groups (Police, EMS, business etc) to share one chunk of the spectrum without having to allocate fixed channels for each user.

Over on his blog Andrew Nohawk has uploaded an excellent guide that explains trunked radio, how it works, how to use radioreference to look up trunked radio frequencies in your area, and how to use an RTL-SDR to listen in. He then shows how to use a program called "trunk-recorder" which will automatically record and upload trunked radio conversations to a site like openmhz.com for sharing. 

Voice Trunking Seen on GQRX with an RTL-SDR
Voice Trunking Seen on GQRX with an RTL-SDR

Testing out the SDR-Kits L-band Inmarsat Patch Antenna for AERO

The SDR-Kits L-band Patch antenna is a modified GPS antenna designed for receiving Inmarsat satellite stations such as AERO and STD-C. They have another version for receiving Iridium frequencies as well. The patch costs £12.90 inc VAT in UK, or approx US$14 for non-UK customers. 

Over on his channel Frugal Radio has uploaded a video where he tests this patch antenna with an RTL-SDR Blog V3. The built in bias tee on the V3 is used to power the antenna. In the video he shows how he's able to receive and decode AERO using the JAERO decoding software and how he uses a a metal backing to improve reception.

SDR-Kits frugal L-band Inmarsat patch antenna review decoding CPDLC ADS-C with RTL-SDR v3 dongle!

Imaging the Milky Way in Neutral Hydrogen with an RTL-SDR

Over on Facebook Job Geheniau has recently been sharing how he's taken an image of our galaxy (the Milky Way) with a radio telescope consisting of a 1.5 meter dish, RTL-SDR and a few filters and LNAs. In the past we've posted several times about others observing the Hydrogen line with an RTL-SDR, and we have a tutorial here showing how to observe it on a budget.

In this case, Job went a step further than just a single measurement. He used a used a motorized dish and RTL-SDR to scan the entire Milky Way over one month, resulting in a full radio image of the galaxy. As his posts and pdf document are on Facebook and not visible to those without Facebook accounts, we asked for permission to reproduce some of them here for all to see. We have also mirrored his PDF file here, which contains more information about his radio telescope, results and setup.

To make a very long story short. After a month of angel patience (and that says something to me) I managed to take a 'picture' of our entire galaxy (galaxy) in neutral hydrogen! I attach some pictures. If you are more interested, please come after this and PDF with explanation. It was a hell of a job I can tell you. But here's the ' picture s' of the house (230 million light years wide) in which we live and in which we all have a big mouth......

Hydrogen Line Image of the Milky Way produced by Job Geheniau
Hydrogen Line Image of the Milky Way produced by Job Geheniau

For the Scientists among us... a beautiful plot of the Milky Way Graphically explained in neutral hydrogen....... In short, summarized... if you look up on a beautiful summer evening you will see a beautiful galaxy, this is graphically the same but then on a different frequency than the eye can perceive. own dates of course.....

A composite of Hydrogen Line readings at different points of the Milky Way
A composite of Hydrogen Line readings at different points of the Milky Way produced by Job Geheniau
An image of the Galactic Plane (longitude 20 to 240 steps of 5 degrees and latitude 0)
An image of the Galactic Plane (longitude 20 to 240 steps of 5 degrees and latitude 0)

His setup consists of a 1.5m dish, extended to 1.9m with some mesh. A 1420 MHz tuned feed, Mini Circuits ZX6-P33ULN LNA, Bandpass Filter, NooElec SAWBird LNA, Bias-T, RTL-SDR V3, PST Rotator Dish Software, VIRGO software, SDR#, Cartes due Ciel sky chart and a home made netfilter.

He uses a modified version of the VIRGO software to read sky coordinates from a text file, and this points the telescope at each predefined coordinate. He then uses VIRGO to record data for 180 seconds before moving on to the next coordinate. The data is then plotted in Excel, and the highest peak is taken at each coordinate and put back into an 8x21 matrix in excel. Conditional formatting is then used to generate a color gradient resulting in a rough map. Then a Gaussian blur is applied, and it is projected over the Galaxy, resulting in the images above.

Job Geheniau's Radio Telescope Setup
Job Geheniau's Radio Telescope Setup

In the past we've seen a very similar project performed by Marcus Leech from ccera.ca. However, his measurements use 5 months of observations resulting in much higher resolution data.

The Hydrogen Line is an observable increase in RF power at 1420.4058 MHz created by Hydrogen atoms. It is most easily detected by pointing a directional antenna towards the Milky Way as there are many more hydrogen atoms in our own galaxy. This effect can be used to measure the shape and other properties of our own galaxy.

A Self-Executable version of TempestSDR is now Available

TempestSDR is an open source tool made by Martin Marinov which allows you to use any SDR that has a supporting ExtIO (such as RTL-SDR, Airspy, SDRplay, HackRF) to receive the unintentional signals radiated from a screen, and turn that signal back into a live image. This can let you view what is on a screen through a wall without using any physical cables.

We first posted a demonstration of TempestSDR back in 2017 when we were finally able to get it to compile. Compiling the software took a fair amount of work for those without experience, and even running it was a chore. However, getting it to work is worth it as you can do some really interesting demonstrations.

However these problems are over and recently Erwin Ried @eried has made a self-executable version of TempestSDR. This means that no compilation, java installs, mingw or extra dlls are required to get the program to work as now it's just an exe that you can run. You will still need the appropriate ExtIO dlls for your SDR. The video in his twitter post shows it working with a HackRF.

GR-HRPT: GNU Radio HRPT Decoder Blocks for NOAA, METEOR, MetOp and FengYun-3 Weather Satellites

Thank you to @Derek33197785 for writing in and highlighting @aang254's work on gr-hrpt, a GNU Radio 3.8 port of HRPT blocks from gr-noaa and other projects. These blocks are for decoding the HRPT signal from weather satellites like NOAA, METEOR, MetOP, and soon FengYun-3. @Derek33197785 writes to us:

[@aang254] made a custom HRPT decoder and ported HRPT blocks for NOAA, METEOR and MetOp to work with gnuradio 3.8 on Linux. Right now it is the only free and open source decoder for MetOp (that works), and he also thinks about implementing FengYun support. I tested the decoder and it works great.

He's also working on extracting the full data from HRPT, not just the AVHRR/MSU-GS imagery but also all the telemetry and other instrument data.

HRPT is a high resolution weather satellite image signal that is broadcast from the same NOAA satellites that provide the more commonly received low resolution APT images at 137 MHz. HRPT is also broadcast by the FengYun-3, Metop and Meteor satellites. However, HRPT transmits at 1.7 GHz, so a high gain dish antenna with motorized tracking mount (or hand guided tracking), LNA and a high bandwidth SDR like an Airspy is required to receive it.

A Metop HRPT Weather Satellite Image (resolution reduced). See @Derek33197785's twitter for the full resolution image.
A Metop HRPT Weather Satellite Image (resolution reduced). See @Derek33197785's twitter post for the full resolution image.

Decoding HIRS Instrument Images from NOAA Weather Satellites

Thank you to Björn Schnabel who has written in to notify us about a website he's created for a program written by Zbigniew Sztanga called NOAA-HIRS-decoder which might be of interest to some RTL-SDR users. Most of us are familiar with the the ability to use an RTL-SDR to receive the APT signal on the NOAA 15/18/19 weather satellites. The APT signal provides a live image of the Earth. If you haven't tried to receive APT yet, we have a tutorial here.

Apart from APT there is also the HIRS instrument data which is transmitted in the Direct Sounding Broadcast (DSB) telemetry signal that is spaced at a slight offset from the APT frequency. According to NOAA, the HIRS instrument is "a discrete stepping, line-scan instrument designed to measure scene radiance in 20 spectral bands to permit the calculation of the vertical temperature profile from the Earth's surface to about 40 km". The SDR# screenshot below shows what the HIRS signal looks like, and to the sides you can see NOAA APT signals.

The NOAA HIRS Signal
The NOAA HIRS Signal (Center Signal)

NOAA-HIRS-decoder makes use of the Project-Dessert-Tortoise NOAA satellite telemetry decoder that we posted about previously which can be used to decode data from most of the other scientific instruments on the NOAA satellites. The HIRS decoder by Zbigniew uses the raw text data produced by the Project-Dessert-Tortoise decoder and converts it into images. Full instructions on setting up the decoder on Windows is provided on the NOAA-HIRS-decoder website, just click the menu icon on the top right of the page, and go to "usage".

The received data contains 10 channels of long wave infrared, 9 channels of medium wave infrared, and one visible light measurement. The software will plot the 20 channels as images that are 56 pixels wide. This is not a high resolution picture, but it is nevertheless valuable data that can be used for scientific or weather prediction purposes.

All 20 NOAA HIRS Channels (Image enlarged from 56 pixels)
All 20 NOAA HIRS Channels (Image enlarged from 56 pixels)