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New photo of Lunar farside and Earth

On Monday 4th February 2019, the Dwingeloo telescope downloaded a new photo of Earth and the lunar farside. This photo, taken Sunday 3rd February 2019 at 15:20 UTC, shows the lunar farside and Earth (with South America in view). The lunar farside has more visible craters than the side of the Moon which faces Earth.

This photo was taken by the Chinese satellite LongJiang 2 in a lunar orbit. One of the devices on this satellite was made by students from the Chinese Harbin Institute of Technology. They put a (relatively) simple webcam on it that can take pictures on command. These photos are then sent to Earth with a little antenna. Because the satellite is so far away, receiving the signal requires a large radio antenna. The Chinese have asked the CAMRAS volunteers at the Dwingeloo Radio Telescope to help with this. Downloading this photo from the satellite to the Dwingeloo Telescope (16 KB in size) took 20 minutes.

The little Chinese satellite that took this photo has been in lunar orbit since the beginning of 2018. It ‘took a ride’ on the rocket that launched the bigger QueQiao satellite. That satellite also hosts antennas from ASTRON, the original owner and professional neighbour of the Dwingeloo Radio Telescope. ASTRON hopes to use the antennas on the big satellite to receive signals from just after the Big Bang as part of the Netherlands-China Low-frequency Explorer (NCLE) project.

The amateur radio payload that took this picture was developed at the Harbin Institute of Technology by Mingchuan Wei (BG2BHC), Hu Chaoran (BG2CRY), Tai Mier (KG5TEP), Zhao Yuhao (BG2DGR). Taking this photo was coordinated by Wei. While downloading this picture, the CAMRAS Dwingeloo Radio Telescope was operated by Cees Bassa, Tammo Jan Dijkema and Vanessa Moss. The commands were uplinked to the satellite by German radio amateur Reinhard Kuehn (DK5LA) with his home-built yagi array. See more details in blog post Our precious Earth and the lunar far side.

The photo has been color-corrected. Since the satellite camera lacks an infrared filter, colors come out too red. The original is below; we edited it to balance the colors, and make the Moon greyscale.

In October 2018, the Dwingeloo Telescope also cooperated in receiving a lunar farside photo (see blog post Our precious Earth and the lunar far side) and even a time-lapse showing the Earth disappear behind the Moon (see blog post Time-laps of the Earth appearing behind the Moon). At that time, the satellite was closer to the Moon, so the entire Moon did not fit in the picture. In the next months, we expect to receive more of these photos. But in August 2019, this adventure will end: then LongJiang 2 will crash in a controlled manner onto the lunar surface in a controlled manner. QueQiao will continue operating for the foreseeable future.

Possibilities of the CAMRAS webSDR

Observing meteors

During our special openings and stargazing evenings, dozens of visitors are interested in observing meteors. This is why CAMRAS volunteers Simon Bijlsma (PA7SB) and Frans de Jong (PE1RXJ) have put more information on the astronomy page for those who want to read it again or want to know more. It concerns four articles:

Antenna building
Observing meteors with radio
Visualize radio meteors
Software Defined Radio receiver

We previously wrote those articles in Dutch for the website of the KNVWS Working Group Meteors. The articles  are about observing meteor scatter with a self-built antenna in combination with an RTL SDR dongle and suitable software and visualizing and counting meteors with the SpectrumLab program. The aforementioned articles are here on the CAMRAS website in both Dutch and English,

Who is not such a self-builder or lacks the time needed to build a meteor scatter receiving station can of course also use our online CAMRAS webSDR receiver that is specially designed to receive real time meteor scatter with your own tablet, laptop, smartphone or computer.

CAMRAS volunteer Pieter-Tjerk de Boer (PA3FWM) designed this beautiful webSDR software already ten years ago. At the Amateur Radioclub of the University of Twente, his own UT webSDR receiver runs for the entire short wave spectrum from 0.1 to 30 MHz.

The CAMRAS webSDR for receiving meteor reflections was set up after a successful experiment in 2011 in which we streamed live meteor reflections over the internet for the first time during the maximum of the Perseids meteor shower. As a result, Simon Bijlsma has built the 2-meter and 6-meter Yagi antennae that are now used for the CAMRAS webSDR. The building description can be found in article 1. These antennae are linked to two RTL SDR dongles which then provide the CAMRAS webSDR stream with the help of the SDR software.

With the webSDR tuning to the frequency of the French Space radar GRAVES gives the possibility to observe aircraft and the ISS in addition to meteor reflections. Even echoes of the GRAVES radar that are reflected by the Moon are regularly seen! The distance to the Moon back and forth is about 800,000 km and the Moon is also a very bad reflector for radio waves, so most of the signal is lost. Nevertheless, the echoes are so strong that they can be clearly seen on the webSDR receiver. See above image with meteors (hook-shaped), aircraft (lines in the middle), ISS (slanted dotted line) and the moon (vertical dotted line).

Observing satellites

Recently, the webSDR has been expanded with a receiver for a Chinese moon satellite. The Dwingeloo telescope is one of the official reception ground stations for the Chinese moon satellite DSLWP-B. From Germany the uplink command signals are sent to the satellite. This satellite floats in an elliptical orbit around the moon, through which the satellite can also take pictures of the back of the moon. This is not possible from the earth. However, the nominal transmit power of this satellite is very limited and, depending on the mode used, only 1 to 2 Watt (30 – 33 dBm).

The 25m Dwingeloo telescope is used to receive the lunar photos and telemetry signals, the frequencies used in the 70cm band are 435.4 MHz and 436.4 MHz. The beautiful photos (see above) of the back of the moon and the earth can be found elsewhere on this website. Worldwide there is great interest among radio amateurs for the photos and telemetry signals of this satellite. In collaboration with Pieter Tjerk de Boer, Simon Bijlsma therefore connected a third RTL SDR dongle and connected it to the 70cm antenna of the telescope. This allows our many (international) visitors to the webSDR to follow the satellite signals in real time and decode the GMSK and FT4G signals themselves when the telescope follows the satellite.