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The Arecibo Observatory planetary science educational and research projects

Presentation #315.03 in the session College Education and Outreach Programs.

Published onJun 29, 2022
The Arecibo Observatory planetary science educational and research projects

The planetary radar science group at the Arecibo Observatory (AO) is committed to enriching educational experiences for students of different stages. For several years, the Arecibo Observatory has been hosting the REU summer program in Puerto Rico, providing research experience to undergraduate students with projects from a variety of areas, such as: radioastronomy, space and atmospheric sciences, planetary sciences, engineering, and computer sciences. In addition, the NASA funded STAR Academy program provides pre-college research experience focused on STEM education. We will discuss the past and present research experience projects in the planetary radar science group.

For decades, AO has been a key facility to help in the exploration of Solar System bodies, revealing for the first time the surface of planet Venus, the precise rotation of Mercury, radar maps of the Moon, etc. Furthermore, AO plays an important role in planetary defense by providing physical and dynamical characterization of near-Earth asteroids (NEAs). More than 850 NEAs were detected with the 2.38 GHz S-band planetary radar system, many of them categorized as potentially hazardous asteroids (PHAs). The planetary radar data has been used for many years as part of the REU research experience. First, the students learn how to process the raw data to get familiar with the unique concept of sending a microwave signal and analyzing the echo received from the target. Information such as shape, size, surface properties, and spin period can be derived from the data. Examples of projects performed by students under the supervision of the planetary radar science group are: 3-D shape reconstruction of NEAs, characterization of asteroids by combining radar data with observations in other wavelengths, surface properties analyses, and dynamical studies. Due to the operational aspect of the Arecibo’s planetary radar program and the particular knowledge required, there is still a backlog of data to be analyzed. Programs like the REU experience are great vehicles to disseminate this very unique knowledge, and guarantee the transfer of knowledge to the next generation.

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