June 8, 2011 in Nation/World

Giant eye on sky secures funding, new operators

Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

This 2007 file photo shows the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
(Full-size photo)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The world’s largest single-dish radio telescope has received a five-year, multimillion-dollar funding commitment that new management says will allow scientists to probe the mysteries of imploded stars and maybe even lead to the detection of elusive gravitational waves predicted by Albert Einstein.

The Arecibo Observatory secured the funding this month amid looming budget cuts when the National Science Foundation awarded a $42 million contract to a consortium including California-based SRI International, a nonprofit research organization.

The consortium’s takeover of the observatory is expected to occur in October. Located in Puerto Rico’s lush north coast and featured in the movie “Contact” with actress Jodie Foster, the 1,000-foot-wide telescope has been operated by Cornell University since 1963.

SRI’s partners on the project include the Universities Space Research Association, a Maryland-based nonprofit corporation founded under the National Academy of Sciences.

“We’re still the most sensitive telescope in the world,” Robert Kerr, SRI’s director-designate for the observatory, told the Associated Press on Tuesday. “That has allowed a rich diversity of research.”

The observatory will launch a $2 million high-frequency facility later this year, only the second of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, Kerr said. It is expected to emit high-frequency waves that will help scientists study the ionosphere, the upper part of the atmosphere that affects how radio waves are transmitted on Earth.

“It’s a very unique laboratory,” he said.

Scientists also expect to use the radio telescope to react more quickly to solar storms and analyze how they impact weather at the altitude of satellites, he said.

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