Arecibo Observatory
Operations and Maintenance Team


Press Release

Fact Sheet

Job Openings

Arecibo Observatory Fact Sheet

The world’s largest fully operational radio telescope, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, soon will be under new management. A consortium led by the University of Central Florida in Orlando will start formal transition activities to take on the operations and management of the National Science Foundation’s observatory.

Arecibo Observatory: Overview and History

Built into a sinkhole in a mountain range in northwest Puerto Rico, the telescope’s huge primary disc was used to discover the first exoplanets and detect organic molecules outside our galaxy.

The Arecibo Observatory includes 118 acres; its reflector covers 18 acres – or the size of nearly 24 football fields.

When completed in 1963, the observatory cost $9.3 million.

The 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor for their work with Arecibo in monitoring a binary pulsar, providing a strict test of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and the first evidence for the existence of gravitational waves. Today, pulsars are being used to search for gravitational waves through incredibly accurate timing with the Arecibo telescope.

The telescope has been featured in several films and television series, including GoldenEye, Contact and The X-Files.

New Management:

Arecibo Observatory Management Team is the name of the management team in the NSF contract. It refers to partners University of Central Florida, Universidad Metropolitana and Yang Enterprises, Inc.

The team plans to expand the capabilities of the telescope. The new collaboration will allow the observatory to continue contributing to space science and will open up new opportunities to students and faculty in Central Florida, Puerto Rico and beyond.

The observatory will continue to offer scientists from around the world an opportunity to pursue radio, atmospheric science and pulsar astronomy research. The new agreement also ensures that the observatory will continue to be available to help track potentially dangerous near-Earth objects.

The agreement is valued at $20.15 million, subject to the availability of funds, over five years and is scheduled to begin April 1.

Once the transition is complete, faculty members and researchers from UCF will have the opportunity to work with scientists and other personnel at Arecibo. UCF conducts a variety of space-related research, mostly focused on planetary sciences. The telescope offers UCF faculty and students an opportunity to pursue new fields within space research including atmospheric science and radio astronomy. Likewise, scientists at Arecibo and students will have the opportunity to travel to UCF to potentially work on projects with experts in Orlando.

What research is done at the Arecibo Observatory?

The Arecibo Planetary Radar is used to study celestial bodies in our solar system such as planets, moons, asteroids and comets. Directed by the 1,000-foot reflector, a powerful beam of radio energy is transmitted in the direction of the target object. A small portion of this energy is reflected by the target back in the direction of Earth. This radio echo is processed and then analyzed to yield information about the size, shape, spin, density, composition, surface properties and geology (e.g., ridges, craters and boulders) of the target object.

The Arecibo Planetary Radar System can measure the distance to an asteroid, typically millions of kilometers away, with a precision of meters; it can measure the speed of an asteroid, typically tens of kilometers per second, with a precision of millimeters per second. Arecibo’s precision can greatly refine asteroid orbits, aiding NASA in its congressionally mandated mission to study near-Earth objects and help assess the impact hazard of potentially hazardous objects. The types of space research most commonly conducted at Arecibo are planetary science, atmospheric science and pulsar.

Discoveries:

2017. Arecibo discovered two strange pulsars that undergo a "cosmic vanishing act" – sometimes they are there, and then for very long periods of time they are not. This has upended the widely held view that all pulsars are the orderly ticking clocks of the universe.

2016. Arecibo discovered the first repeating fast radio bursts, which are millisecond radio pulses that appear to be extragalactic.

1992. Arecibo discovered the first-known exoplanet. In subsequent observations, an entire planetary system was found around the pulsar PSR 1257+12.

1981. Arecibo produced the first radar maps of the surface of Venus. Optical images show only the top of the thick cloud layer.

1967. Arecibo discovered that the rotation rate of Mercury is 59 days, not the previously estimated 88 days. The rotation is not tidally locked, but rather the rate is an orbital resonance with two orbits for every three rotations.

CONTACTS:

Heather Smith, UCF Communications, 407-823-5828, Heather.Smith@ucf.edu

Ricardo Correa, Arecibo Observatory, 787-878-2612, ext. 615, rcorrea@naic.edu

Joshua Chamot, National Science Foundation, 703-292-4489, jchamot@nsf.gov