Arecibo Radio Telescope Can't Be Saved

Yolanda Curtis
November 20, 2020

The remaining cables are holding the 900-ton receiving platform 450 feet above the dish, and they're well past the rated safety tolerances. It was only eclipsed in mid-2016 when China's 500-m-diameter Aperture Spherical Telescope was commissioned.

Earlier this month, another cable broke tearing a new hole in the dish and damaging nearby cables as engineers scrambled to devise a plan to preserve the crippled structure.

An update was provided on october 12 with no culprit of what caused the auxiliary cable to fail - UCF outlined what had been done to date to fix the cable which included a complete safety assessment, shipping the socket involved in the failure to NASA Kennedy Space Center for further evaluation, and completing a review for a possible fix plan. The dome, as described by National Geographic, is large enough to fit an entire house.

In August, an auxiliary support cable "detached" from its tower and smashed into the dish below, leaving a gash some 30 m big. The photo on the right, from November 17, shows several more tears.

The main entrance of the Arecibo Observatory is seen in Arecibo Puerto Rico
The main entrance of the Arecibo Observatory is seen in Arecibo Puerto Rico Nov. 19 2020

That main cable should not have failed.

"This decision is not an easy one for NSF to make, but the safety of people is our No. 1 priority", said Sean Jones, the agency's assistant director for the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate.

"The firm NSF hired concurred with the recommendations of Thornton Tomasetti and expressed concern about significant danger from uncontrolled collapse". "It is therefore our recommendation to expeditiously plan for decommissioning of the observatory and execute a controlled demolition of the telescope".

One of three concrete support towers for the Arecibo Observatory radio telescope is seen in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Nov. 19, 2020.

Several science news outlets quoted managerial officials noting that the decision to dismantle the observatory hinged exclusively on safety concerns and that it doesn't reflect on the telescope's merit.

The dish itself is responsible for a number of fascinating discoveries throughout its 57-year operational history, including the first radar image of an asteroid and the first discovery of exoplanets, though it's especially recognisable for its famous cameo in the final act of 1995's GoldenEye.

The Arecibo Observatory, which is managed by UCF under a cooperative agreement, is owned by the National Science Foundation.

Located in the humid forests of Arecibo, this laboratory has a wide reflective dish and an 816 ton structure at 137 meters in height Puerto Rico, Used by scientists and astronomers around the world for decades to analyze distant planets, detect unsafe meteorites, and hunt for signatures of extraterrestrial life.

The observatory's striking location - in the middle of a heavy forest - also made it a tourist spot and earned it several film appearances.

The researchers from the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence -search for extraterrestrial intelligence-) were in charge of the transmission, which consisted of a simple pictorial message, addressed to our hypothetical companions that inhabit the cosmos, specifically launched towards the globular cluster of stars M13. But it was soon being used as an all-purpose radio observatory.

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