Arecibo Observatory
Vol. 7 Fall 2020

Picture courtesy of our Telescope Operator Israel C. Cabrera.


Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month!

The University of Central Florida, a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), proudly serves almost 20,000 Latinx students and is sixth in the nation for bachelor's degrees awarded to Hispanic and Latinx students. UCF celebrated National HSI Week Sept. 14-18, 2020, to celebrate our diversity and affirm our commitment to equitable access and opportunity.

The Arecibo Observatory is proud to be an NSF science institution with a majority Hispanic staff. As such, we recognize that our team serves as leaders and inspiration for STEM students and professionals in Puerto Rico and beyond. As a celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, AO has been sharing interviews with impactful Hispanic scientists and engineers, including former astronaut Dr. Ellen Ochoa, on our social media pages. You can watch these interviews here.

Launching the AO Seminar Series: What Are You Doing with AO Data?

Are you actively using Arecibo data for your research? We are looking for scientists to share their on-going projects with other researchers in order to collaborate and enhance the return of AO data. Early-career researchers and graduate students are encouraged to share and participate.

This series will consist of virtual seminars that will be open through teleconference to the community of AO-users and to other interested parties.

Sign up to our AO Seminars/Miniseries mailing list: AO Seminar Series Sign-Up
If you would like to present your work, email Dylan.Hickson@ucf.edu

AO Colloquium Returns

The AO Colloquium Series returned September 29th with a talk by Arecibo Observatory’s Dr. Mike Sulzer, titled “The Physics of Incoherent Scatter with Application to the Understanding of the Plasma Line Spectrum with Narrow Peaks in the Electron Velocity Distribution Function”!
More than 60 participants attended the colloquium and had the opportunity to share comments and ask questions with Dr. Sulzer following the presentation. You can watch his talk here here.

Check out the list of upcoming speakers and dates on the AO Colloquium website.

Science Highlights

Discovery of Asymmetric Double Neutron Stars

A new study published in Nature revealed the first asymmetric double neutron star, a possible precursor to a neutron star merger, using the Puerto Rico Ultimate Pulsar Processing Instrument (PUPPI) at the Arecibo Observatory.

+ Read More


Cassini Data Solves Mystery of Arecibo Radar Signals on Titan

A detailed analysis of Cassini radar data published in Nature Communications provides an explanation for the decades-long mystery of the exceptionally high Arecibo radar reflections from the surface of Saturn’s moon, Titan.

+ Read More


Discovery: Microquasar Powers the Gamma-ray Heartbeat

Unexpected results published in Nature Astronomy, using over a decade of data from Arecibo’s Galactic ALFA HI survey and NASA’s Fermi Large Area Space Telescope, found that excess gamma-ray emissions, co-spatially located with gas enhancements, may be associated with jets produced by the powerful microquasar SS 433.

+ Read More

Summer Student Assists in Development of Newest AO Facility

In anticipation of AO’s CARLA facility, high school summer student Maria Velazquez worked with Dr. Jens Lautenbach to create a new database containing previous studies of the Saharan Air Layer (SAL), which affects air quality, hurricane formation, and soil fertilization in parts of the Western Hemisphere.  

+ Read More


Analyzing Gravitational Fields Around Small Bodies

A recent publication in the Planetary and Space Science journal, led by AO scientist Dr. Flaviane Venditti, explores how to map asteroids’ gravitational fields and their effects on potential spacecraft orbits.

+ Read More

Hunting for the Mysterious Origins of Fast Radio Bursts

A targeted search for repeat Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) using the Arecibo Observatory led to new constraints on the frequency and brightness of these explosive events, as described in a study submitted to the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

+ Read More

Arecibo Radar Rebounds from Tropical Storm, Pings Near-Earth Asteroid 2020 NK1

Arecibo radar observations were used to remove the near-Earth asteroid 2020 NK1 from the CNEOS Sentry List, thanks to the quick restoration of telescope operations by the AO maintenance and electronics teams following Tropical Storm Isaias.

+ Read More


A Holistic Approach to Understanding Asteroids: Lab, Theory, & Observations

AO/UCF preeminent postdoctoral researcher Dr. Dylan Hickson led a study in JGR-Planets that combined laboratory experiments and theoretical models to better interpret radar observations of planetary bodies in our Solar System.

+ Read More

AO News



AO Wins NASA Space Grant, Launches “Girls Educating Girls”

The Girls Educating Girls initiative will provide mentorship and support for young women enrolled in STEM college programs, who will in return present their research through online modules to the next generation of students.

+ Read More

Management Updates


Status of Telescope Damage Assessment and Repairs Plan

On August 10th 2020, a Tower 4 auxiliary cable that supports the telescope’s platform experienced a failure that resulted in damage to the telescope’s primary reflector dish and the Gregorian dome. We continue to be as transparent as possible about the ongoing status of repairs to the facility through a series of press releases and emails to you, the AO community; however, the process is slow as we develop the optimal plan for facility repairs while prioritizing the safety of our staff. 

Our staff, as well as the external firms we’ve hired, are working diligently to understand the cause of the failure and to return the telescope to normal operations as soon as possible. We expect to release another official public update on the status of the repairs in early October. You can find our most recent press release here

To see all previous and future public notifications about ongoing repairs to the telescope, visit our website.

We are extremely grateful for the continued support we’ve received from the AO community.


Installation of New Water Pump

In September, the AO maintenance team replaced an obsolete water pump from the 1960s with a new, efficient water pump to prevent future water damage to the facility’s equipment. Without an effective pump, heavy rains can cause high water levels in the natural sinkhole in which the telescope resides, affecting equipment and operations. The new water pump was installed using part of the NSF’s supplementary recovery award of $2.3M, which was granted to repair damages from Hurricane Maria in 2017 and mitigate the impact of future storms.

Cafeteria Upgrades

We have transformed our cafeteria! Since 1963, the AO Cafeteria has provided food services and generated many good memories for all of our staff, scientific, and student community. We want it to be a comfortable and inviting space that provides a feel of warm welcome. We will improve our overall experience with:

  • Color: We have chosen colors that will create a nice and relaxing ambiance.
  • Lighting: In the eating area, we have created a relaxed and friendly mood, while adding plenty of light for our kitchen staff to continue to perform their jobs well.
  • Layout: The new floor covering complements the ambiance, and our new floor plan allows for an easy flow.
Universidad Ana G. Méndez contributed $100,000 for the improvements and renovations. The cafeteria grand re-opening will be on October 2, 2020.

Training and Education

STAR Teachers Workshop Provides Virtual Activities & Training for 721 Teachers

Through a generous donation of $20,000 from the Ángel Ramos Foundation, AO developed virtual learning activities and provided eight free professional workshops for over 700 elementary and middle school STEM teachers across the island of Puerto Rico. + Read More

STAR Academy features Astronaut Ellen Ochoa, other STEM speakers

The AOff STAR Academy launched its third semester on August 29th! Each Saturday, invited guests speak with the 33 high school student participants, including: former astronaut and first Hispanic woman in space, Dr. Ellen Ochoa; host of the Netflix show Emily’s Wonder Lab, Emily Calandrelli; scientists from across Puerto Rico, AO staff, and many others! + Read More

Sharing the Connection: AO’s Planetary Radar & NASA’s OSIRIS-REx Mission to Bennu

Former AO director Dr. Michael Nolan presented a Professional Development Training Webinar titled “Twenty Years of Bennu: From Arecibo to Orbit (and Home Again),” for JPL’s Solar System Ambassadors and Museum Alliance, highlighting Arecibo’s role in understanding the mission’s target asteroid. + Read More

Tutorial: How to Build an Asteroid

AO scientist Dr. Sean Marshall has been leading a series of tutorials for other planetary scientists, training them to use computer software to develop models of asteroids using radar data collected by the Arecibo Observatory. + Read More

AO Communications

AO Comic:

"Micro Comics"

Follow along with Greg doing the tasks that the AO team might find themselves fulfilling! Through our AO Comics, our readers can always be up-to-date on what's going on at Arecibo Observatory!
+ Learn More

Why I Love AO Videos

We celebrate the Arecibo Observatory every day! Learn why our staff love working at our one-of-a-kind facility. Click here to follow the series of interviews!

Our New Staff Members

We are excited to welcome Keysha Gonzalez and Julio Alvarado to the AO team!
Keysha Gonzalez
Keysha Gonzalez

Ms. Gonzalez is a Software Engineer II at the Arecibo Observatory, and is responsible for software development support, web development for science content, and researching cryptocurrency technologies. Ms. Gonzalez has a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Engineering and a minor in Software Engineering from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. She is an active member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM).

Julio Alvarado
Julio Alvarado

As Arecibo Observatory’s Big Data Program Manager, Mr. Alvarado will be responsible for developing and implementing data management, infrastructure improvement projects, and leading the effort in planning and implementing a cloud-based data storage facility for all telescope data. Mr. Alvarado earned his Bachelor’s Degree from the University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez Campus in Computer Engineering, is certified as Six Sigma Green Belt, and he is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Engineering Management.