Meteors by Radio

University of Alberta observatory domes


"Thank you so much for visiting our class on Friday! The kids loved it...they thought it was pretty cool to meet a "real" Astronomer! Thanks again, Janine"

Lesson Plan Four - Detecting Meteors by Radio in the Classroom

Related texts:  

ScienceFocus 9, Unit E, Topic 5: What Channel is That?

Science in Action 9, Unit E, Topic 3: The Spectroscope

Science in Action 9, Unit E, Topic 3.2: Using Technology to See Beyond the Visible

Science in Action 9, Unit E, Topic 1.2: Discovery Through Technology

Learning outcomes*:

*All requirements in this section are quoted directly from the new Science 9 curriculum from Alberta Learning. The full curriculum can be seen here

Key concepts:

Technologies for space exploration and observation (Unit E)
Communication technologies (Unit E)
Forms of energy (D)

Students will:

Describe and interpret the science of optical and radio telescopes, space probes and remote sensing technologies (Unit E)
Explain the role of radio and optical telescopes in determining characteristics of stars and star systems (Unit E)
Identify and correct practical problems in the way a prototype or constructed device functions (Unit D)
Investigate and illustrate the contributions of technological advances-including optical telescopes, spectral analysis and space travel-to a scientific understanding of space (Unit E)
Investigate and describe ways that human understanding of Earth and space has depended on technological development (Unit E)
Work collaboratively on problems; and use appropriate language and formats to communicate ideas, procedures and results (Units C, E)
Work collaboratively in carrying out investigations and in generating and evaluating ideas (all Units)
Conduct investigations into the relationships between and among observations, and gather and record qualitative and quantitative data (all Units)
Analyze qualitative and quantitative data, and develop and assess possible explanations (all Units)

Activity - Detecting Meteors with an FM Radio

Background information for teachers and students can be found here and here. These are the two articles assigned for homework prior to today's session.

Outline of the Activity

Students will receive an introduction to the principles of radio telescopes and how they use the radio portion of the electromagnetic spectrum to observe objects and processes in space. An FM radio and related equipment will be used as a radio telescope to do real scientific observations of meteors entering the Earth's atmosphere. 


Digitally tuned AM/FM radio (provided by Sky Scan project).

PC Computer with sound card.

Appropriate cables (provided by Sky Scan project).

Radio Sky Pipe software. This free software can be downloaded directly to your PC. A version with advanced features can be purchased as well.

Antenna (may be provided by Sky Scan or may require construction by the school - ask us about this).


Review all of the material on the Student Activities page and pages linked to it. You should also review the materials information on the Getting Started page. It describes the equipment required to set up a classroom based FM radio telescope.

In Class

Have students report on their findings from the homework assignment comparing day and night time characteristics of AM and FM radio stations. 

Review the process for undertaking the radio telescope project with the class. Proceed to the Student Activities page for instructions. Detailed information on the equipment required for this project is outlined in the Student Activities section. This activity is the main project of the Sky Scan curriculum resource. 

Teacher notes and debriefing


Copyright 1999-2015 by Sky Scan, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support of the 

Edmonton Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Department of Physics (University of Alberta)

and the

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

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