Radio Astronomy is the study of radio waves emitted by astronomical objects such as galaxies, stars, star-forming regions, gas clouds, supernova remnants, pulsars and quasars. The high sensitivity of the Arecibo radio telescope allows astronomers to detect faint radio emissions from far-off regions of the universe. Information from these measurements allows us to determine the distances and masses of galaxies and how they form clusters, find mysterious alignments between gas streams and magnetic fields in the Milky Way, uncover “dark gas” in star forming regions, and discover new and as-yet unexplained phenomena such as fast radio bursts.
Pulsar astronomy forms a large part of the work of the Arecibo telescope. Radio pulses from rotating neutron stars (pulsars) provide an insight into the physics of these fascinating objects. The second fastest known pulsar – the first millisecond pulsar to be found – was discovered at Arecibo, as were the first exoplanets, which were found orbiting a pulsar. The 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor for their work with Arecibo in monitoring a binary pulsar, providing a strict test of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity and the first evidence for the existence of gravitational waves. Today, pulsars are being used to directly search for gravitational waves through incredibly accurate timing with the Arecibo telescope.
The Radio Astronomy Group at Arecibo consists of scientists who are not only users of the telescope but who use their expertise to help other users to plan and carry out their observations. Arecibo is an “open skies” facility, meaning it is not used only by our own staff but by scientists from all over the world. Observing time is assigned between competing proposals on the basis of evaluation of their scientific value by external referees. The Radio Astronomy Group makes sure that all users have access to the expert knowledge needed to make the best use of their observing time.