History, Science & Discovery at the Arecibo Observatory
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Joan Schmelz
N232 R103
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The Arecibo Observatory celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2013 and continues to do cutting-edge research in radio astronomy, planetary radar, and atmospheric science. Early discoveries include the 33-ms period of the pulsar in the Crab Nebula supernova remnant and the 59-day rotation rate of the planet Mercury. Later discoveries include the first binary pulsar, the first radar maps of Venus, the first megamaser galaxy, the first millisecond pulsar, and the first extrasolar planet. Arecibo’s legacy of great discoveries continues unbroken to the this day with the new detection of the first repeating Fast Radio Burst, which rules out an entire class of models requiring catastrophic explosions. Arecibo’s planetary radar observations provides information on the orbit and physical properties of the Near-Earth Asteroid, Bennu, paving the way for NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission, which will travel Bennu and return a sample to Earth in 2023. The atmospheric radar has recently discovered the unexpected large amount of helium in the upper reaches of the ionosphere, forcing us to revise our understanding of the coupling between the ionosphere and the plasmasphere. High priority science investigations now include using pulsars to search for gravitational waves, characterizing near-Earth objects that threaten civilization, and heating the ionosphere to perform controlled plasma experiments. This talk will discuss 50 years of science at the Arecibo Observatory, from the early construction to the latest discoveries. It is geared to scientists and science students of all levels.