Grant will fund new super-sensitive antenna at Arecibo

Antenna will increase capabilities of powerful radio telescope by 500 percent.
By Laurel Kornfeld | Nov 20, 2018
A group of scientists from several universities has been awarded a $5.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to place a super-sensitive antenna on Arecibo Observatory's 1,000-foot diameter dish.

Located in the municipality of Arecibo in Puerto Rico, the observatory has been managed by the University of Central Florida (UCF) since April, when the school won a bid by NSF. Its radar system studies planets, moons, comets, and asteroids.

The new antenna, known as a phased-array feed, will be mounted at the focal point of the 1,000-foot dish. It will enable a 500 percent increase in the observatory's observation capabilities.

"We already have one of the most powerful telescopes on the planet, and with this award, we will be able to do even more. We are very excited with the award to fund the new ALPACA (Advanced Cryogenic L-Band Phased Array Camera for Arecibo) receiver at the Arecibo Observatory. This receiver, which is the next generation of our most-used receiver, will be able to increase the survey speed by a factor of five. The receiver will accelerate research in gravitational waves, fast radio bursts, dark matter, and pulsar surveys, ensuring that AO continues to be at the forefront of radio astronomy for years to come," emphasized Arecibo site director Francisco Cordova.

Cordova worked on the NSF grant application with the science team, which was led by Brian Jeffs and Karl Warnick, engineers at Brigham Young University (BYU). Members of the team include researchers at UCF and Cornell University.

Jeffs and Warnick installed an array of small antennas at Arecibo in 2009, which increased its surveying ability.

Scheduled for installation in 2022, the phase-array feed will have 166 antennas and significantly increase the telescope's field of view.

Scientists hope to use the new antenna to track pulsars, the stellar remnants left behind after massive stars die in supernova explosions, as well as gravitational waves or ripples in the fabric of space-time produced by two colliding neutron stars or two colliding black holes.

Warnick noted the upgraded telescope will also study dark matter, which is not well understood, yet is known to surround almost every galaxy. It will even be used to search for extra-terrestrial intelligence and to locate the source of mysterious fast radio bursts.

"We're taking the most sensitive radio telescope in the world and opening it up so that it can view a larger part of the sky at one time. There's a lot of things in space you can see with an optical camera, but you can see even more with a radio telescope, Warnick said.

 

 

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