MID-SCALE RESEARCH INFRASTRUCTURE - Track 2: NEW DIRECTIONS IN MICROWAVE INTEFEROMETRY AND RADAR - AN 18-m ANTENNA ARRAY DEVELOPMENT FOR THE ARECIBO OBSERVATORY (NSF Proposal Number 2153433)
MOST RELEVANT NSF DIRECTORATE/DIVISION: OIA/AST
COLLABORATIVE PROPOSAL: NRAO, University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez (UPRM), University of Central Florida/Arecibo Observatory (UCF/AO), Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), and Raytheon Technologies, Inc.
PROPOSED DURATION: 50 months (Proposed Start Date 02/01/2023)
The Electrical and Computer Engineering Department of the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez (UPRM), the United States National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and the University of Central Florida/Arecibo Observatory (UCF/AO) have formed a collaboration including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and Raytheon Technologies, Inc. (RTX) to explore exciting new research and broader impact opportunities enabled by positioning an array of six high-sensitivity 18-meter radio antennas at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. This pilot array (AO-6) will address forefront radio astronomy and radar research topics, and significantly increase the U.S. research community’s access to high-sensitivity interferometric and radar microwave observations. In Puerto Rico, this new facility will greatly enhance and broaden access to scientific, engineering and educational opportunities for students at all levels, and continue the half-century of key scientific and human contributions from AO.
Operating from frequency of 1.2 to 34 GHz via ngVLA front-end electronics with additional radar transmit/receive capabilities, AO-6 will contribute to a broad range of space science and astrophysics including studies of solar system objects, the detection of exoplanets, circumgalactic HI, and gravitational waves. AO-6 will flexibly deliver a suite of observing modes, including: a stand-alone interferometer, a phased radar transmitter/receiver, and a new major element of the VLBA/ngVLA. The AO-6 radar system will provide a powerful complement to the (limited) National (and international) planetary radar infrastructure, because of its observing availability, potential for rapid response to newly-discovered asteroids and its relatively large field of view. As a stand-alone instrument, using a hardware correlator, AO-6 will contribute to a wide range of critical science applications including flux density monitoring, studies of circumgalactic HI in the Local Group and other nearby galaxies, and potential intensity mapping experiments to detect molecular gas in galaxies during the Epoch of Reionization. Some of the most exciting work that can be carried out by a stand-alone AO-6 interferometer includes observations contributing to gravitational wave studies and multi-messenger astrophysics. As a long-baseline aperture, combined with instruments like VLBA/ngVLA, a broad range of high-resolution science will be improved dramatically through increased sensitivity, including polarimetric imaging of quasars and Galactic X-ray binaries, precision astrometry of many classes of stars, including pulsars, magnetars, and M-dwarfs, and spectroscopic imaging and astrometry of astrophysical masers.
The primary focus of the Broader Impact Plan is to create new partnerships between academia andindustry for the development of the diverse, globally competitive STEM workforce required to plan, design, prototype, construct, commission and operate the AO-6 and other next generation radio astronomy array telescopes. The plan includes activities that will enhance engineering, radio astronomy, planetary science and high-throughput computing infrastructure at UPRM; improve STEM educator and UPRM faculty development; broaden the participation of under-represented minorities, particularly Hispanic/Latino women, in the scientific domains listed above; and improve the public awareness, understanding and appreciation of the role of radio astronomy, the Arecibo Observatory (AO) and AO-6 in socio-economic development of Puerto Rico. AO-6 will continue Puerto Rico’s legacy in radio astronomy, planetary radar and SETI; construction, operation and maintenance of the array will see direct and sustained investment into the economy of Puerto Rico, and enable Arecibo Observatory to retain technical staff; and new site infrastructure and services will increase AO’s ability to attract new international astronomy research infrastructure to the site.