Planetary Sciences

The Arecibo Planetary Radar is used to study celestial bodies in our solar system such as planets, moons, asteroids and comets. Directed by the 1000-foot reflector, a powerful beam of radio energy is transmitted in the direction of the target object. A small portion of this energy is reflected by the target, back in the direction of earth. This radio echo is processed then analyzed to yield information about the size, shape, spin, density, composition, surface properties, and geology (e.g., ridges, craters, and boulders) of the target object. The Arecibo Planetary Radar System can measure the distance to an asteroid, typically millions of km away, with a precision of meters; it can measure the speed of an asteroid, typically tens of kilometers per second, with a precision of millimeters per second. Arecibo’s precision can greatly refine asteroid orbits, aiding NASA in its congressionally mandated mission to study near-Earth objects and helping assess the impact hazard of potentially hazardous objects.

Science Group

The Planetary Radar Science group is a department of the Arecibo Observatory, which is an NSF facility operated under cooperative agreement by University of Central Florida (UCF), Yang Enterprises (YEI) and Universidad Metropolitana (UMET). The Arecibo Observatory Planetary Radar program is fully funded through grants to USRA from NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations program (Grants NNX12AF24G and NNX13AQ46G). The Planetary Radar Science group is also partnered with the Center for Lunar Science and Exploration node (USRA-Lunar and Planetary Institute/NASA-Johnson Space Center) of the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute program.

Recent News

Observatories Team Up to Reveal Rare Double Asteroid

Observatories Team Up to Reveal Rare Double Asteroid
Planetary July 12, 2018

New observations by three of the world‘s largest radio telescopes have revealed that an asteroid discovered last year is actually two objects, each about 3,000 feet (900 meters) in size, orbiting each other. Near-Earth asteroid 2017 YE5 was discovered with observations provided by the Morocco Oukaimeden Sky Survey on Dec. 21, 2017, but no details about the asteroid's physical properties were known until the end of June. This is only the fourth "equal mass" binary near-Earth asteroid ever detected, consisting of two objects nearly identical in size, orbiting each other. The new observations provide the most detailed images ever obtained of this type of binary asteroid. Read More

Near-Earth asteroid (505657) 2014 SR339   February 14, 2018

First Asteroid Detection since Hurricane Maria   December 12, 2017

Radar Observations and Shape Model of Asteroid 16 Psyche   Jul 21, 2017

Arecibo refines our knowledge of a potentially hazardous asteroid  Apr 17, 2017

Arecibo Observatory captures revealing images of Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova   Feb 12, 2017

Discovery Announcement of Binary System (163693) Atira   Jan 20-23, 2017

Asteroids by the AO Planetary Radar Group

Planetary Radar Group


Dr. Anne Virkki

Postdoc Research Scientist
Dr. Flaviane Venditti

Dr. Flaviane Venditti

Postdoc Research Scientist
Dr. Sean  Marshall

Dr. Sean Marshall

Postdoc Research Scientist

Luisa Fernanda Zambrano-Marín

Research Asst.

Graduate Students
  1. Jenna Crowell, University of Central Florida, Advisor: Yan Fernandez
  2. Agata Rozek, University of Kent, Advisor: Stephen Lowry
  3. Adam Greenberg, University of California, Los Angeles, Advisor: Jean-Luc Margot
  4. (Undergraduate) Benjamin Sharkey, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, Advisor: Charles Woodward

  • Dr. Patrick Taylor, Research Scientist, Head of Planetary Radar

  • Dr. Edgard Rivera Valentín, Research Scientist

  • Michael C. Nolan, Staff Scientist, Head of Planetary Radar, and Site Director
  • Ellen S. Howell, Staff Scientist
  • Alessondra Springmann, Data Analyst
  • John K. Harmon, Staff Scientist
  • Alice A. Hine, Staff Scientist
  • Jean-Luc Margot, Postdoc
  • Donald B. Campbell, Staff Scientist and Site Director
  • Carolina Rodriguez Sanchez-Vahamonde, Research Assistant / Observing Support