The Arecibo Observatory Presents Dr. Joan T. Schmelz

Monday, June 27, 12:15 - 13:15 in the Pablo Casals Ballroom

Arecibo Observatory History & Science
Dr. Joan T. Schmelz
Universities Space Research Association
Arecibo Observatory Deputy Director

Abstract: The Arecibo Observatory is a multi-disciplinary facility that provides unique capabilities in astrophysical, planetary, and atmospheric sciences. The observatory is home to the world’s largest radio telescope, which is 1000 feet in diameter and covers an area of ~20 acres. The reflecting surface is made of ~40,000 perforated aluminum panels and is supported by a network of steel cables strung across the underlying terrain. The 900 ton platform is suspended 450 feet above the reflector on 18 cables, which are strung from three reinforced concrete towers. The Arecibo system operates from 50 - 10,000 MHz (600 - 3 cm). The telescope was originally built to investigate the ionosphere, but a site near the equator ensured that the radar could also be used to study nearby planets. The large limestone sinkholes in the Karst terrain south of Arecibo provided a natural geometry for the construction of the reflector. Tobacco farm land was eventually selected and construction began in 1961. Early discoveries include the 33-ms period pulsar in the Crab Nebula supernova remnant, the 59-day rotation rate of Mercury, and the electron- ion-temperature difference in the ionosphere. Later discoveries included the first binary pulsar, first radar maps of Venus, first megamaser galaxy, first millisecond pulsar, and first extrasolar planet. High priority science investigations now include using pulsars to search for gravitational waves, characterizing near-Earth objects that threaten civilization, and heating the ionosphere to perform controlled plasma experiments. This talk will discuss 50 year of science at the Arecibo Observatory, from the early construction to the latest discoveries.

Bio: Joan Schmelz works for Universities Space Research Association (USRA) and currently serves as the deputy director of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. She was honored for her work on sexual harassment as one of Nature’s top ten people who made a difference in science in 2015. She is a professor at University of Memphis and a regular visitor to the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. She is a former program officer for the National Science Foundation's Division of Astronomical Sciences and the former chair of the American Astronomical Society's Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy. She worked as part of the operations team for the Solar Maximum Mission Satellite at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center after receiving her Ph.D. in Astronomy from Penn State University. Schmelz is a solar physicist whose research investigates coronal heating and coronal loops as well as the properties and dynamics of the solar atmosphere. In addition to writing science papers for the Astrophysical Journal, she also writes regular posts for the Women in Astronomy BlogSpot on topics such as unconscious bias, stereotype threat, and the gender gap.

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