The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

National Science Foundation Awards Arecibo Observatory $12.3 Million Grant

By: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala on

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico today was awarded $12.3 million by the National Science Foundation to make repairs and improve the resiliency of the facility managed by UCF.

The congressionally supported emergency supplemental funds represent a significant investment in the long-term viability of the site to do cutting-edge observations of Earth’s atmosphere, asteroids, interstellar gas, distant galaxies, pulsars, fast radio bursts, and to search for gravitational waves from distant cataclysmic events.

“NSF is excited to see the full potential of the Arecibo Observatory’s unique scientific capabilities realized as this restorative work is completed,” says Ashley Zauderer, program director at the National Science Foundation.

The money will be used during the next four years to make a range of repairs and improvements to the facility, which will also expand Arecibo’s capabilities.

“The grant will ensure that Arecibo Observatory remains leading research and educational institution in the world,” says Francisco Cordova, the facility’s director. “The repairs and investment in infrastructure are critical to the long-term structural integrity of the radio telescope, reliability, and quality of collected data, and improving the overall performance of the systems.”

UCF manages Arecibo under a cooperative agreement with Universidad Ana G. Méndez and Yang Enterprises Inc.

The Arecibo Observatory received a $2 million grant in June 2018 after Hurricanes Irma and María ripped through the island and damaged the facility in 2017. Those funds were used to make emergency repairs such as fixing the catwalk that leads to the reflectors suspended above the 305-meter dish. In addition, buildings were repaired, generators were serviced, and first responder equipment was replaced. This funding also enabled the facility to prepare for the 2019 hurricane season.

Projects from this grant include:

  • Repairing one of the suspension cables holding the primary telescope platform, ensuring the long-term structural integrity of one of the main structural elements of the telescope.
  • Recalibrating the primary reflector, which will restore the observatory’s sensitivity at higher frequencies.
  • Aligning the Gregorian Reflector, improving current calibration and pointing.
  • Installing a new control system for S band radar, which is part of the microwave band of the electromagnetic spectrum.
  • Replacing the modulator on the 430 MHz transmitter, increasing consistency of power output and data quality.
  • Improving the telescope’s pointing controls and data tracking systems.

Each of these projects is essential to the work conducted at the facility, which includes research in the areas of planetary radar, astronomy and space and atmospheric sciences, administrators say. The telescope has assisted in the understanding of gravitational waves, the theory of relativity, the discovery of new planets, and other research. The instruments also play an important role in monitoring asteroids that could pose a hazard to Earth.

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