The National Science Foundation (NSF) recently announced that a tripartite consortium led by the University of Central Florida (UCF) in partnership with Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Yang Enterprises, Inc. in Oviedo, Florida, will take over management of the Arecibo Observatory.
The observatory is home to a 1000-foot (305-meter) radio telescope located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. Its construction was completed in 1963 for research in radio astronomy, atmospheric science, and planetary radar astronomy. Formally known as National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC), it held the largest single-aperture telescope in the world until July 2016 when the 500-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in China was completed.
The observatory was built in Puerto Rico for reasons of funding, location, and terrain. Because its construction was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, it had to be located in a territory of the United States. It had to be situated near the equator because there radar capable of studying the ionosphere could also be used to study nearby planets and near-Earth asteroids. The Arecibo site also had the advantage of a limestone karst terrain with a natural sinkhole of ideal size and shape for holding the reflector dish.
The reflector dish sustained minor damage from Hurricane Maria in September 2017. However, this damage was not extensive enough to justify decommissioning the facility. Funding for repairs was secured by Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who stated, “This is a win-win-win. It’s good for UCF and Florida, it’s good for Puerto Rico, and it will enable thousands of scientists who do research at Arecibo each year to continue their work.”
With its emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) curricula and its reputation as a center for space-related research, UCF seems to be a good fit for running the observatory. The school plans to sell time at the observatory to private and public research agencies, seek donations and more partners, and promote tourism to generate revenue. “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,” said UCF President John C. Hitt. Chancellor Carlos M. Padin of Universidad Metropolitana agrees, “We are confident this partnership will expand the opportunities for research, as well as formal and informal STEM education in Puerto Rico.”
The third partner in the consortium, Yang Enterprises, Inc., will provide facilities infrastructure, engineering, operations, maintenance, information technology and support services, as well as logistics and security services. “This project presents a unique opportunity for Yang Enterprises to support not only space research, but also support the Arecibo community and the educational and scientific communities of the globe,” Founder Tyng-Lin (Tim) Yang said. Mr. Yang earned a Ph.D. in civil engineering at UCF in 1990 and is an adjunct professor in the Civil Engineering Department.
The Arecibo Observatory is located at:
Route 625 Bo. Esperanza,
Arecibo, PR 00612
The visitor center is open Wednesday through Sunday and on holidays from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. It is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. An admission fee is charged.
Phone: 787-878-2612 Ext. 346