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National Astronomy & Ionosphere Center

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NSF Award:

National Astronomy and Ionoshere Center Proposal for Renewal and Reinvestment Funds  (Cornell University)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

The National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC) in Arecibo, Puerto Rico enables research in the areas of astronomy, planetary studies, and space and atmospheric sciences by providing unique capabilities and state-of-the-art instrumentation for data collection and analysis, together with logistical support to users. The Center hosts the Arecibo Observatory, the world's largest single-dish radio telescope, recognized as one of the most important national centers for research in radio astronomy, planetary radar and terrestrial aeronomy.

NAIC initiates and supports progress in the above research areas by maintaining a scientific staff whose members develop individual research programs, provide assistance to visiting scientists, and extend valuable scientific opportunities by developing and implementing plans for future enhancements to NAIC facilities and instrumentation.

Use of the Arecibo Observatory is available on an equal, competitive basis to all scientists from throughout the world to pursue research in astronomy, planetary studies and space and atmospheric sciences. Observing time is granted on the basis of the most promising research, as ascertained by peer review of proposals by external referees.

The observatory began operating in 1963 and the National Science Foundation began managing the center in 1969. Since that time, NAIC has been host to Nobel Prize-winning research and many important discoveries including two new classes of pulsars, the first planets outside the solar system, and major contributions to our understanding of the chemistry and dynamics of the Earth's upper atmosphere and ionosphere. NAIC is also uniquely suited to search for signals from extraterrestrial life, by focusing on thousands of star systems in the 1,000MHz to 3,000 MHz range. Though no such signals have ever been detected, the observatory did provide the setting for many astronomy scenes in Contact, the movie based on Carl Sagan’s novel and starring Jodie Foster.

Education & Outreach

NAIC strengthens scientific and engineering research potential by supporting activities which provide undergraduate and graduate students with opportunities to further their education. NAIC contributes to the general understanding and appreciation of science by initiating and participating in public education and outreach programs.

Each summer, Arecibo Observatory hosts at least six students and one Puerto Rican teacher for 10 weeks. The students work with staff scientists on projects related to ongoing research or instrumentation development programs. Research may be conducted in atmospheric science, radio astronomy, or planetary radar astronomy. The students are exposed to the interdisciplinary character of NAIC through lectures by the staff and visiting scientists, tours of observatory facilities, hands-on labs, and frequent informal discussions with graduate students and scientists. A seminar series provides the students with a background in the major areas of research conducted at the observatory and introduces them to the observatory’s exciting scientific work. Students also often have the opportunity to conduct their own independent group observing experiment with the telescope.

Also each summer, NAIC collaborates with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) to organize a school on single-dish radio astronomy. The objective of the school is to provide graduate students, post-doctoral students, and experts in other fields of astronomy with both knowledge and practical experience using the techniques and applications of single-dish radio astronomy.

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  • Arecibo telescope
courtesy of the NAIC - Arecibo Observatory, a facility of the NSF