Arecibo Observatory — The Arecibo Observatory is part of the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC), a national research center operated by Cornell University under a cooperative agreement with the National Science Foundation (NSF).
The NSF is an independent federal agency whose aim is to promote scientific and engineering progress in the United States. NSF funds research and education in most fields of science and engineering. Additional support is provided by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
The Observatory operates on a continuous basis, 24 hours a day every day, providing observing time, electronics, computer, travel and logistic support to scientists from all over the world. All results of research are published in the scientific literature which is publicly available.
As the site of the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, the Observatory is recognized as one of the most important national centers for research in radio astronomy, planetary radar and terrestrial aeronomy.
Use of the Arecibo Observatory is available on an equal, competitive basis to all scientists from throughout the world. Observing time is granted on the basis of the most promising research as ascertained by a panel of independent referees who review the proposals sent to the Observatory by interested scientists.
Every year about 200 scientists visit the Observatory facilities to pursue their research project, and numerous students perform observations that lead to their master and doctoral dissertations.
The Observatory had its origins in an idea of Professor William E. Gordon, then of Cornell University, who was interested in the study of the Ionosphere. Gordon’s research during the fifties led him to the idea of radar back scatter studies of the Ionosphere. Gordon’s persistence culminated in the construction of the Arecibo Observatory which began in the Summer of 1960. Three years later the Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory (AIO) was in operation under the direction of Gordon. The formal opening ceremony took place on November 1, 1963.
From the beginning there were certain requirements for the site. It had to be near the equator, since there, a radar capable of studying the ionosphere could also be used to study nearby planets which pass overhead. The Arecibo site offered the advantage of being located in Karst terrain, with large limestone sinkholes which provided a natural geometry for the construction of the 305 meter reflector.
The Observatory also maintains a Ionospheric Interactions Facility which consists of thirty-two log-periodic antennas and transmitters capable of concentrating energy in the ionosphere. The waves from the facility energize electrons in the ionosphere and produce a number of interactions that are studied using the 305 meter telescope, in effect providing a unique capability as a “laboratory” for studies of plasma physics.