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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

FEMA, Housing and the Loss of Wealth

A FEMA worker approaches a heavily damaged home after Hurricanes Irma and María. The loss of valuable assets and, hence, wealth will have a long-term impact on the Puerto Rican community. / FEMA Facebook

Puerto Rico hurricane evacuees in the Orlando area will begin fleeing FEMA-sponsored short-term housing as soon as next week, with others to follow in March 20.

Calls began months ago to pressure the Federal Emergency Management Agency to extend the deadline for the dozens of people who are still grappling with the sudden homelessness brought on by two back-to-back hurricanes.

FEMA states the program was temporary, which is true, and this week published a press release with the condescending title, “How to Create Permanent Housing Plans,” as if the agency were addressing ignorant people. Item No. 3: “Achieve long-term housing goals in a reasonable time frame.”

If only it were that easy.

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Hurricane Supplies May Go to Waste

Supplies collected by Iniciativa Puertorriqueña for Puerto Rico relief efforts are held at a Goldenrod  Road warehouse owned by the Orange County government. The merchandise must be removed by 5 p.m. Monday. /Maria Padilla. Photo dated December 2017

Puerto Rico hurricane victims may never see thousands of pounds of food and other supplies collected in Central Florida as part of relief efforts.

Earlier this week, news reports indicated that hundreds of boxes of supplies at the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Office (PRFAA) in Kissimmee were potentially contaminated by rodents – supplies that should have made it to the island a while ago. The office said it sent 10,000 pounds of supplies to Puerto Rico, with remaining supplies to be distributed locally.

But the office, with a budget of about $200,000 a year and a few employees, closed its doors over a week ago. It probably should have been shuttered eons ago due to Puerto Rico’s ongoing steep money problems. It seems likely the rat-infested supplies must be thrown out.

But, wait, there’s more.

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Organizations Keen to Register Puerto Rican Voters

Never have so many organizations been so keen to register Puerto Rican voters.

For partisan voices eager to tilt registration rolls in the critical swing state of Florida, there is gold in them there newly arrived Puerto Ricans. For the partisans who fear they may lose out, there is a race to convince Puerto Rican voters of the kinship between the two.

Florida “estimates that nearly 300,000 U.S. citizens from Puerto Rico fed to Florida after Hurricane María. Some will stay, register and vote. … If Florida turns as reliably blue as California and New York, Republicans, starting with Donald Trump, may never win another presidential election,” wrote Daniel Henninger in the Wall Street Journal  last week.

All this is happening before many Puerto Ricans have settled into permanent residences. Before many have solicited permanent, not temporary, Florida identifications needed to register to vote, by the way. But most important, before the trauma of fleeing a hurricane-wracked Puerto Rico empty-handed is digested or properly dealt with.

Activists and organizations who really want to help Puerto Ricans should start with basic necessities. It may surprise people to learn that voting is not a basic need. In fact, there is no election until the August primaries, seven months away. Voting participation is a lot like concern for the environment: Once fundamental needs are addressed you can turn your gaze elsewhere. The Puerto Rican evacuees are far from reaching this goal. Plus, they are very much concerned about family back home.

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