About Us

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The Arecibo Observatory planetary radar is the world's most powerful instrument for post-discovery characterization and orbital refinement of near-Earth objects. Arecibo radar observations are critical for identifying asteroids that might be on collision course with Earth and, if necessary, preventing a collision. Radar can provide detailed physical characterizations of NEAs:

  • If a small body is on course for an Earth collision in this century, Arecibo radar measurements could show this, and would dramatically reduce the difficulty and cost of any mitigation effort by defining the object's size, shape, mass, spin state, and orbit, and by revealing if it is one body or a two-body system.
  • Radar investigations of many NEAs are roughly equivalent, in their science content, to space flyby missions, but have a much lower cost (five orders of magnitude)

Radar is invaluable in determining the orbits of potentially hazardous NEAs.

  • Range-Doppler radar measurements complement optical observations by providing line- of-sight positional astrometry with precision as fine as 10 m in range and 1 mm/s in velocity, with a fractional precision 100 to 1000 times finer than that of typical optical measurements.
  • Radar data increase the average interval of predictability (relative to optical-only orbit solutions) by up to 370 years and can provide warnings of impact during the initial discovery period, whereas two widely separated observations are needed for optical-only orbits.
  • Radar data can quickly eliminate collision false alarms caused by optical-only data.

These unique capabilities of radar are critically important as we work towards the 2005 Congressional mandate of detecting and characterizing 90% of NEAs down to 140 m in size.

The Solar System Studies group is a department of the Arecibo Observatory, which is an NSF facility operated under cooperative agreement by SRI International, Universities Space Research Association (USRA), and la Universidad Metropolitana (UMET). The Arecibo Observatory radar is funded through the NASA Near-Earth Objects Observations program and scientific staff in the department are USRA employees.

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Recently Observed Asteroids:


Upcoming Radar Targets:

Asteroid Dates Expected
H mag Request Optical
Request Optical
Request Optical
2014 UR Oct 19 Imaging 26.6 1' Y Y NHATS, 2.37-h period?
(66146) 1998 TU3 Oct 22-23 Astrometry 14.5 2.375-h period
1998 XN2 Oct 24-25 Imaging 19.5 Y PHA, period unknown
2009 FD Oct 26-04 High-res Imaging 22.1 Y Y Non-zero impact hazard, 5.87-h period
2006 UY64 Oct 29-30 Imaging 19.5 Period unknown
2005 UL5 Nov 13-17 Imaging 20.2 Y PHA, period unknown
1864 Daedalus Nov 25 Astrometry 14.9 8.6-h period, Sr type
2011 YS62 Nov 29 Astrometry 19.7 Period unknown
(345722) 2007 BG29 Nov 29 Astrometry 18.0 Period unknown
(163899) 2003 SD220 Dec 03-17 High-res Imaging 16.9 Y Y PHA, NHATS, period unknown
2011 WN15 Dec 05-06 Imaging 19.6 Y PHA, period unknown
(163696) 2003 EB50 Dec 04-08 Imaging 16.4 27.2-h period
(33342) 1998 WT24 Dec 13-18 High-res Imaging 17.9 Y Y PHA, speckle, 3.697-h period
1995 YR1 Dec 20 Astrometry 20.2 1' Y PHA, period unknown
2002 AC5 Dec 22-27 Imaging 19.9 Y PHA, period unknown
2010 BB Dec 26 Astrometry 20.4 Y PHA, NHATS, period unknown
(294739) 2008 CM Dec 28-31 High-res Imaging 17.3 Y Y PHA, 3.054-h period
2004 MQ1 Dec 30 Astrometry 18.0 3' Period unknown

Requests for Optical Observations:

Astrometry: optical astrometry is specifically requested for objects with plane-of-sky pointing uncertainties of tens of arcseconds or more. Optical observers are asked to submit astrometry to the Minor Planet Center as soon as possible after observations.

Lightcurves: optical lightcurves and period estimates are specifically requested for objects that will produce high-resolution images (i.e., possible shape models), for targets of IRTF thermal-infrared observations, for candidate binary asteroids, and for potential human-exploration targets. Lightcurve observers are asked to relay period estimates to the radar team to help with the planning of radar observations. During the analysis and modeling process, the radar team may request to use available lightcurve data.

Characterization: optical characterization refers to spectra and colors, which are most important for targets of IRTF thermal observations, for completeness of the strongest radar targets, for candidate binary asteroids, and for potential human-exploration targets. Optical observers are asked to relay probable spectral-class information to the radar team to compare with characteristics suggested by radar.

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