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NAIC: The National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center
Link to NAIC Web site
I. General project/facility description
- Overview of the facility/project
The NAIC's major facility is the Arecibo Observatory, located in northwestern
Puerto Rico. The principal instrument for astronomical research is the 305-m
diameter Arecibo telescope. The Observatory also offers a complete suite
of optical instrumentation (LIDARs, lasers and Fabry-Perot spectrometers)
for atmospheric research.
- Managing institution and organization
NAIC is operated as a national facility by Cornell University under a cooperative
agreement with the NSF.
- Funding source(s)
Approximately 85% of NSF funding for NAIC comes from the Astronomy Division
(AST); the remaining 15% comes from the Upper Atmosphere Division of the
NSF Geosciences Directorate (GEO).
The capital cost of the Angel Ramos Visitor and Education Facility at Arecibo
was paid entirely from private sources through donations to Cornell University
most notable from the Angel Ramos Foundation. No NSF funding was used for
construction of the Visitor Center. The operating cost of the Visitor Center,
approximately $1M annually, is raised entirely from ticket sales and private
donations. No NSF funds are expended to operate the Arecibo Observatory
- Construction history and cost
The Arecibo telescope was constructed from 1960-1963, funded by the U.S.
Advanced Research Projects Agency with project administration provided by
the U.S. Air Force.
In 1973-4, the primary reflector was replaced, allowing operation to
a frequency of 3 GHz; A high powered 2.4 GHz transmitter was installed for
planetary radar research (funded by NASA). During the 1990's, a second upgrade
allowed greater sensitivity and bandwidth at lower frequencies (notably the
1.4-1.6 GHz L-band) and extended the frequency range to 10 GHz. The $25M
project began in 1992 funded by the NSF, NASA and Cornell. In addition to
the installation of a Gregorian secondary and tertiary reflector system in
a radome, the system was also outfitted with receiving systems up to 10 GHz,
a 50-foot high ground screen to suppress ground spillover, and a dual-beam
radar capability for atmospheric incoherent scatter studies.
In 2004, the 7-beam Arecibo L-band Feed Array (ALFA) was installed and commissioned,
revolutionizing Arecibo's wide-area mapping capability over the 1.2-1.5 GHz
Estimated replacement cost: $220M.
- Operational history and costs)
Originally, the facility was operated as the Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory.
In 1971, responsibility for the Observatory was transferred to NSF and Cornell
created the NAIC to serve the broad, national community of researchers and
to recognize its importance to the astronomical community.
In 2004 the budget for operation of the Arecibo telescope was $12.3M.
This is made up of $10.6M from AST and $1.7M ATM.
II. Technical details
- Specifics of telescope/instrument
305 meter diameter reflector, equipped with Gregorian optical system.
Operates over frequency range from 327 MHz to 10 GHz
See: General technical
- New capabilities anticipated/planned in next
Technical capabilities at the NAIC, and plans for new capabilities, are
developed in concert with the NAIC user community. Not only does the academic
community of users help the NAIC generate ideas for new capabilities, in
most cases they also provide the people to do the work to implement those
capabilities (under contract with NAIC). NAIC strives to foster multi-institutional
collaborations that are needed to promote many research endeavors. The
NAIC plan for the future is dependent on partnerships formed, or being formed,
to execute that plan. The key elements planned over the next 5-10 years
are the following:
- Operate and maintain the first "radio camera" at the Observatory,
the Arecibo L-band Feed Array (ALFA) thereby enabling rapid, large-scale,
sky surveys. This project is being done as a cooperation between
NAIC and three very large (50-75 member) topical consortia of academic
- Develop and provide funding for backend instrumentation and software
for ALFA as joint initiatives between NAIC and experienced university
researchers. A spectrometer for ALFA galactic science has been built
and put into operation using this model, and two more spectrometers
--for ALFA pulsar surveys and surveys of HI in the local universe
-- will be implemented using the same partnership model.
- Implement "commensal" observing, a sharing of telescope time in
which the IFs from the ALFA front ends are analyzed simultaneously
by two or spectrometers by groups with different science objectives
but with a common need to survey the sky at L-band.
- Develop and provide funding for ALFA legacy databases that are
designed and implemented by ALFA academic users. The databases will
be a permanent resource for researchers everywhere.
- Upgrade the present Arecibo Mark 5a disk-based VLBI record
system to Mark 5b as soon as the Mark 5b system is available.
This will provide additional sensitivity for VLBI observations.
- Design and construct a wideband, digital, data-taking system
for the S-Band planetary radar system in response to community-generated
needs for higher spatial resolution on their targets.
- Design and construct a wideband, MMIC-based, array receiver for
high frequency (4-10 GHz) observations at Arecibo. This will greatly
speed up surveys of formaldehyde and methanol, for instance.
- Serve as the managing organization for U.S. participation in
the International Square Kilometer Array (SKA) project, the next
generation facility for radio astronomical research.
- Establish a Project Office at NAIC for the U.S. SKA Technology
Development Project (TDP) as proposed to the NSF, and provide
the project management for the TDP needed for the successful
execution of all participating university efforts in the TDP.
- Maintain and enhance NAIC involvement in radio spectrum management
in international, national and local forums.
III. User profile
- % of "open skies" time
100% of the time is allocated on the basis of peer-review scientific
merit subject to staff technical review.
- Institutional affiliations of users
More than 200 scientists from nearly 100 institutions were users of the
Arecibo telescope in 2003. Most of these institutions are U. S. universities,
but government laboratories, other observatories and foreign institutions
are all represented as well. These numbers have grown steadily since the
completion of the Gregorian upgrade in 1997: the number of users increasing
by 24% and the number of institutions represented by 50% over the 5 years
- Student access, involvement, usage.
- In 2003 thirty students used the Arecibo telescope as part of their
Ph.D research, representing ~15% of the total number of telescope users.
- Undergraduates were involved both through the NAIC NSF-REU program
and through trips to conduct observations with the home-institution advisers.
- NAIC hosts one or more graduate students in residence at Arecibo.
During 2003-4, B. Catinella was the NAIC pre-doctoral fellow at Arecibo.
She completed her Ph.D. in September 2005 and has since joined the AO staff
as a postdoc.
- Graduate students are involved in the construction of instruments
for use on the Arecibo Telescope which they may also use to conduct their
scientific dissertation research. Specific recent examples include: construction
of the 6-8 GHz receiver (J. Pandian); development of spectral database for
NVO (B. Kent).
- The Angel Ramos Foundation Visitor Center staff includes a number
of student guides from the University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo campus.
IV. Science Overview
- Current forefront scientific programs
- The first-ever, completely-sampled L-band survey of the Galactic
plane (visible to Arecibo) is being conducted to search for pulsars.
The survey is especially sensitive to distant and obscured (high dispersion
measure) pulsars and promises to double the number of known pulsars (more
than 1000 new pulsars) as well as uncover rare and exotic objects useful
for tests of General Relativity and the equation of state of ultra-dense
- Nearly one-quarter of the sky will be systematically searched
for HI emission from galaxies in the local universe, with 8X better
sensitivity and 4X better angular resolution than the previous Parkes survey
(HIPASS). In addition to detecting 20000 HI line emitting galaxies, the
extragalactic HI ALFA program will also deliver the first wide area blind
survey for HI tidal remnants, low z HI absorbers and OH megamasers in the
range 0.16 < z < 0.25. Its dataset will also be used in the statistical
characterization of continuum transients.
- Galactic HI emission will be mapped systematically with 3 arcminute
angular resolution and 0.1 km/s kinematic resolution. The resulting database,
also accessible via the NVO, will be used to reveal previously unknown
sources of energy input to the ISM (from disturbed line wings) and it
will provide a census of cold atomic hydrogen in the galaxy (from HI self-absorption
- Arecibo also serves as the lynchpin of the "High Sensitivity
VLBI Array", and is particularly important for time-domain VLBI studies
such as the measurement of superluminal motions and pulsar parallaxes.
In 2004, Arecibo participated in the first real-time, transatlantic, VLBI
imaging over the internet (what is known as e-VLBI)
- The S-band radar system is surveying systematically the Near
Earth Asteroid (NEA) population, providing sizes, shapes, rotation rates,
orbits, and surface roughness for single NEAs as well as asteroid masses
and (uniquely) densities for binary NEA systems.
- Major discoveries (through 1999)
- Discovery of the first binary pulsar, PSR1913+16, and from its
timing, observational confirmation of gravitation radiation. For this work,
Hulse and Taylor received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Physics.
- Discovery of the first millisecond pulsar.
- Observation of General Relativistic "Shapiro Delay" due to space-time
curvature near pulsars.
- Detection of the first extra-solar planetary system.
- Discovery that OH "megamaser" and "gigamaser" phenomenon is
common in starburst galaxies, emitting luminosities greater
than 10,000 times that of the sun in a single spectral line.
- Neutral hydrogen mapping of the distribution of galaxies
in the Pisces-Perseus supercluster demonstrating the filamentary
nature of the large-scale structure of the universe. For this work,
Giovanelli and Haynes received the 1989 Henry Draper Medal of
the National Academy of Sciences.
- Observational evidence for an enormous halo of dark matter
surrounding the galaxy DDO 154 that is far larger and far more
massive than the visible galaxy
- Detection of high column density HI clouds in the early
universe at redshift greater than 2, from HI absorption observations
- Discovery of the retrograde rotation of Venus.
- First high resolution images of the surface of Venus and the
discovery, from a census of craters on these images, that the
surface of Venus is relatively young (i.e. it is renewed by lava
- Discovery of anomalous radar reflections from the poles of
Mercury indicating the presence of water ice in craters shadowed
from solar illumination.
- Science highlights of last 5 years
- Precise measurement of the "Most perfect circle in the universe",
a binary pulsar whose exquisitely circular orbit (semi-major and semi-minor
axis differing by less than 1 mm for an orbital diameter greater than 100,000
km) constrains and confirms one of the pillars of General Relativity.
- First direct measurement, anywhere, of the deceleration of
micrometeors in the Earth's atmosphere thereby providing a sound estimate
of the mass flux of micrometeors incident on the Earth.
- Discovery of nanosecond duration structure in "giant pulses"
from the Crab Nebula pulsar, evidence for the smallest coherent structure
(size < 1 meter) ever detected beyond the solar system.
- Discovery, from HI measurements of the mass of nearby galaxies,
that low surface brightness galaxies contain a significant fraction
of the baryons in the universe, perhaps more than do high surface brightness
- Detection of CH and formaldehyde in the Carbon star IRC +10216,
indication of external enrichment of the circumstellar envelope.
- Observational confirmation of the Yarkovsky effect via radar
imaging of the Asteroid 4179 Toutatis. The Yarkovsky effect is a non-gravitational
orbit perturbation resulting from solar radiation.
- Determination that the mass of a high velocity HI cloud is mostly
(>80%) dark matter.
- First direct evidence for liquid hydrocarbons on Saturn's moon
- First radar detection of a comet and discovery of centimeter-sized
cometary dust grains.
- Co-discovery of binary Near Earth Asteroids and demonstration
that more than 10% of the NEAs are binary systems. For this work, Margot
received the 2004 Urey Prize of the AAS Division for Planetary Sciences.
- Main future science questions to be addressed
- Do gas-rich but "starless" low mass-satellites exist?
Numerical simulations predict the existence of large numbers of low-mass
galaxies in the present-day universe, much larger than the number observed
to date. Do ones that are gas rich but invisible to optical surveys exist?
HI in a sample of galaxies complete to HI masses less than 107
solar masses will constrain the baryon density locally. (ALFA extragalactic
- What is the population of transient sources of cosmic radio emission,
and what is their nature and origin? (ALFA surveys)
- Is there evidence for exotic states of matter? Precision measurements
of pulsar masses will constrain the equation of state in neutron stars
and tell us whether "quark stars" or heretofore unknown states of matter
are required to explain the pulsar mass distribution (ALFA pulsar surveys).
- Are alternatives to General Relativity needed? Binary pulsar
timing accurately tests alternative models for gravity that involve violation
of the Strong Equivalence Principle of GR. (ALFA pulsar survey followup).
- What is the energy density in the Cosmological Gravitational Wave
background? Precision timing of an array of millisecond pulsars will
constrain the stochastic background of cosmological gravity waves. (ALFA
pulsar survey followup.)
- What are the black hole masses in galactic nuclei and what are
the physical processes in the vicinity of those black holes that lead
to particle acceleration and relativistic, collimated, outflow? (VLBI
imaging with the High Sensitivity Array and intercontinental baselines
over a long time base.)
- What is the distribution and spatial structure of the magnetic
field in the Milky Way? ("Faraday Tomography" with ALFA surveys).
- Synergies with other major forefront facilities
- Timing an array of millisecond pulsars distributed over the sky is
being used as a detector of cosmological gravity waves. This program
is synergistic with the goals of LIGO and LISA.
- The high sensitivity VLBI array will be used, as targets of opportunity
permit, to search for radio afterglows of gamma ray bursts, and to monitor
the change of size of the radio afterglow with time. Synergy with
SWIFT, GLAST, Con-X and with a major program planned for LSST
- The systematic, large-scale, ALFA surveys of HI in galaxies, especially
HI in low mass and low surface brightness galaxies, will enable a broad
range of correlative studies with like datasets such as SDSS, 2MASS,
NVSS, GALEX and eventually, the LSST to produce a complete census of
extragalactic objects in the local universe.
- The large-scale ALFA imaging of the ISM in the Milky Way will
yield sources/regions of energy input to the ISM that will require follow-up
with SPITZER, ALMA, LMT, GEMINI, and the next generation millimeter/submm/IR
- The Arecibo NEA radar observations are synergistic with major
programs on LSST, GEMINI, and the next generation optical/IR telescopes.
- Unique contributions
- Unique contributions arising from the size/sensitivity of the Arecibo
- Highest sensitivity VLBI observations.
- Highest precision pulsar timing (to probe GR)
- Unique contributions from the ALFA multibeam receiver on the Arecibo
- Unique capability to survey/study the sky for transient radio
- Unique capability to measure the HI mass of a large sample
- Unique contributions from the Arecibo Planetary Radar System
- Unique capability to measure the size and orbits of binary
NEAs thereby allowing the NEA density to be computed
- Unique capability to constrain General Relativity through
precise measurements of the perihelion advance of NEAs
V. Education/Outreach activities
- Visitor facility:
The focus of the NAIC public education and outreach activities is the Angel
Ramos Foundation Visitor Center located on the site of the Arecibo Observatory.
The Visitor Center, and the companion, Learning Center provide educational
programs for public visitors, visiting school groups, conferences and special
events, teacher workshops and topical workshops.
- Public visitors:
The number of public visitors to the Arecibo Observatory has remained fairly
constant over that past five years with an annual average of 110,000 paid
visitors. In FY2004 we welcomed 119,000 paid visitors, an increase of 8%
over the previous years.
- Tours and group visits:
The school visits program allows school groups, from both public and private
institutions, to visit the Arecibo Observatory and tour it Angel Ramos
Foundation Visitor Center. In FY2004 525 school groups (31,896 students)
toured the Observatory. In addition to the school groups, 125 groups
from universities, industries, government and community organizations
also toured the observatory.
- Conferences and Special Events:
During FY2004, we hosted the following events:
- An international meeting, Communicating Astronomy in Hispanic
- American Chemical Society Week
- Regional Meeting of the Puerto Rico Teachers Association
- NASA meeting, The Exploration of Mars/La Conquista de Marte
- The Arecibo Geosciences Diversity Project
- Teacher Workshops:
During FY2004 we hosted the following teacher workshops:
- The fifth Angel Ramos Foundation Workshop for Distinguished
Science Teachers. The focus is on an intensive training in the areas of
astronomy and atmospheric science. Over 200 teachers have participated.
In FY2004 there were 38 participants, 20 from high schools and 18 from
- In cooperation with local universities and governments, several
1-day teacher workshops are held at the Observatory. In FY2004 80 teachers,
pres-service teachers and undergraduate education majors participated in
- Student programs (description, eligibility, number
of students, activities, funding sources)
NAIC supports education of the next generation of astronomers at all levels.
- The NAIC postdoctoral program supports members of the staff at
- Graduate student support is provided both through the in-residence
graduate assistantship as well as by means of travel reimbursements,
and contracts for services.
- The NSF-REU program brings 8--10 students to Arecibo for 10 weeks
during the summer. Two or more additional undergraduate students, and two
or more graduate students are supported directly with NAIC funds or funds
from other sources.
- Every other year NAIC along with NRAO offer a single dish summer
school mostly for graduate students and postdocs.
VI. Documentation/website URLs
- URL of facility website
- URL of EPO website
- URL(s) of any brief overviews of project/facility
- URL(s) of miscellaneous documentation (e.g. proposals,
project books, science cases, etc)
This page created
and maintained for the RMSPG by Martha Haynes.
Reviewed by Robert L. Brown. Last modified:
Thu Feb 17 15:04:53 EST 2005