Big Puerto Rico radio telescope to shut in blow to science

Huge Puerto Rico radio telescope to close in blow to science

The announcement saddened many past the scientific world as nicely, with the hashtag #WhatAreciboMeansToMe popping up on Twitter together with footage of individuals working, visiting and even getting married or celebrating a birthday on the telescope.

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The Nationwide Science Basis introduced Thursday that it’s going to shut the large telescope on the famend Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in a blow to scientists worldwide who depend upon it to seek for planets, asteroids and extraterrestrial life.

The unbiased, federally funded company stated it’s too harmful to maintain working the only dish radio telescope — one of many world’s largest — given the numerous injury it not too long ago sustained. An auxiliary cable broke in August and tore a 100-foot gap within the reflector dish and broken the dome above it. Then on November 6, one of many telescope’s major metal cables snapped, main officers to warn that the whole construction might collapse.

NSF officers famous that even when crews have been to restore all of the injury, engineers discovered that the construction would nonetheless be unstable in the long run.

“This resolution will not be a straightforward one for NSF to make, however the security of individuals is our primary precedence,” stated Sean Jones, the company’s assistant director for the Mathematical and Bodily Sciences Directorate. “We perceive how a lot Arecibo means to this neighborhood and to Puerto Rico.”

In this Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 file photo, provided by the Arecibo Observatory, shows the damage done by a broken cable that supported a metal platform, creating a 100-foot gash to the radio telescope's reflector dish in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

On this Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020 file photograph, offered by the Arecibo Observatory, exhibits the injury carried out by a damaged cable that supported a steel platform, making a 100-foot gash to the radio telescope’s reflector dish in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.
| Photograph Credit score:

The telescope was constructed within the Sixties with cash from the Protection Division amid a push to develop anti-ballistic missile defenses. In its 57 years of operation, it endured hurricanes, countless humidity and a current string of sturdy earthquakes.

The telescope boasts a 1,000-foot-wide dish featured within the Jodie Foster movie “Contact” and the James Bond film “GoldenEye.” Scientists worldwide have used the dish together with the 900-ton platform hanging 450 ft above it to trace asteroids on a path to Earth, conduct analysis that led to a Nobel Prize and decide if a planet is probably liveable.


Lately, the NSF-owned facility has been managed by the College of Central Florida.

Alex Wolszczan, a Polish-born astronomer and professor at Pennsylvania State College who helped uncover the primary extrasolar and pulsar planets, advised that whereas the information wasn’t stunning, it was disappointing. He labored on the telescope within the Eighties and early Nineteen Nineties. “I hoped in opposition to hope that they’d provide you with some form of resolution to maintain it open,” he stated. “For an individual who has had plenty of his scientific life related to that telescope, this can be a somewhat attention-grabbing and sadly emotional second.”

The announcement saddened many past the scientific world as nicely, with the hashtag #WhatAreciboMeansToMe popping up on Twitter together with footage of individuals working, visiting and even getting married or celebrating a birthday on the telescope.


Ralph Gaume, director of NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences, careworn that the choice has nothing to do with the observatory’s capabilities, which have allowed scientists to check pulsars to detect gravitational waves in addition to seek for impartial hydrogen, which may reveal how sure cosmic constructions are shaped. “The telescope is presently at severe threat of sudden, uncontrolled collapse,” he stated. “Even makes an attempt at stabilization or testing the cables might lead to accelerating the catastrophic failure.”


Officers suspect a possible manufacturing error is accountable for the auxiliary cable that snapped after a socket holding it failed, however say they’re stunned {that a} major cable broke about three months later provided that it was supporting solely about 60% of its capability. Engineers had assessed the state of affairs after the primary cable broke, noting that about 12 of the roughly 160 wires of the second cable that ultimately broke had already snapped, stated Ashley Zauderer, program officer for Arecibo Observatory at NSF.

“It was recognized as a difficulty that wanted to be addressed, however it wasn’t seen as a right away menace,” she stated. She and different NSF officers stated that each one commonplace upkeep procedures had been adopted.

The closure is a blow for most of the greater than 250 scientists which have used a telescope that can be thought of certainly one of Puerto Rico’s major vacationer sights, drawing some 90,000 guests a 12 months. It additionally has lengthy served as a coaching floor for a whole bunch of graduate college students.

The NSF stated it intends to revive operations on the observatory’s remaining belongings together with its two LIDAR services, certainly one of which is positioned within the close by island of Culebra. These are used for higher atmospheric and ionospheric analysis, together with analyzing cloud cowl and precipitation knowledge. Officers additionally goal to renew operations on the customer middle.

Wolszczan, the astronomer, stated the worth of the telescope received’t immediately disappear as a result of he and plenty of different scientists are nonetheless engaged on tasks primarily based on observations and knowledge taken from the observatory. “The method of claiming goodbye to Arecibo will definitely take some years,” he stated. “It received’t be instantaneous.”

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