UCF to Manage Arecibo Observatory

Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory, the second largest in the world, will be managed by a consortium led by UCF going forward. / Arecibo Observatory

The University of Central Florida has entered a deal to manage Puerto Rico’s world famous Arecibo Observatory, the world’s second largest single-dish radio telescope.

The pact, reportedly worth $20 million, would further cement ties between UCF and Puerto Rico. “The observatory will provide a valuable new dimension to space science at UCF while creating more academic opportunities for students and faculty at UCF, in Puerto Rico and beyond. Our lead role with the observatory deepens Central Florida’s strong ties with our fellow citizens on the island,” states a UCF press release.

UCF will lead a consortium, called Arecibo Observatory Management Team, that includes Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan and Yang Enterprises Inc. in Oviedo. Universidad Metropolitana is part of the Sistema Universitario Ana G. Méndez, which has a campus in Orlando. The new consortium will take over in April.

Iconic Observatory

Opened in 1963, the Arecibo Observatory is “one of the most important national centers for research in radio astronomy, planetary radar and terrestrial aeronomy,” according to a history of the structure, which currently is managed by SRI International, USRA and UMET, under an agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF).

A night view of the Arecibo Observatory, which opened in 1963. / Arecibo Observatory

The NSF had been considering shutting down the observatory due to lack of funding. The observatory is situated near the mountain town of Utuado, which was hardest hit by Hurricane María. The hurricane damaged the telescope but the facility reopened about a week later using power generators, like much of the island, according to news reports. Congress has appropriated “substantial resources” as part of hurricane relief efforts to restore the observatory,  according to Florida Sen. Bill Nelson and UCF.

The iconic Arecibo Observatory occupies a unique place in Puerto Rico science history. At first glance, rural Puerto Rico appears to be an unlikely place for an observatory that is open 24/7 and provides time, electronics, computer, travel and logistic support to scientists worldwide.

To reach it, drivers must travel Puerto Rico’s winding mountain roads and upon arriving are treated to a stunning view of the 1,000-foot diameter dish, which is built into a giant sinkhole and which looks like something out of science fiction.

Scientifically Relevant

Over 200 scientists visit the observatory each year for research. The facility itself is managed and directed mostly by Puerto Ricans, including Dr. Francisco Córdova, head of operations.

Despite financial- and hurricane-related hard times, the Arecibo Observatory still is very much relevant to today’s scientists. Last year, the observatory discovered “two extremely strange pulsars that undergo a ‘cosmic vanishing act,’ sometimes they are there, and then for very long periods of time, they are not,” according to the observatory.

“This has upended the widely held view that all pulsars are the orderly ticking clocks of the universe.”

˜˜Maria Padilla, Editor

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