The US National Science Foundation has decided to stop operating the legendary Arecibo radio telescope, which has recently received additional damage. The structure of the unique scientific object, which served the scientists for 57 years, is dilapidated and may collapse when trying to repair it.
The Arecibo radio telescope consists of a spherical antenna with a diameter of 305 meters placed in a karst funnel and a 900-ton mobile platform with an irradiator suspended above it between three concrete towers using 18 cables. The platform is located 137 m above the antenna array.
The radio telescope was severely damaged by Hurricane Maria back in 2017.On August 10, 2020, one of the cables supporting the platform broke and fell, piercing a thirty-meter hole in an antenna made up of perforated aluminum plates. On November 6, 2020, the second cable burst, causing additional damage to the antenna.
An inspection of the telescope with the assistance of specialists from repair companies revealed new breaks in the veins inside other cables supporting the platform, as well as problematic anchorages of the auxiliary cables. Repair work in such conditions was considered unsafe and could lead to the final collapse of the platform with the radiator on the antenna. As a result, the commission decided to complete the operation of the telescope and prepare it for demolition. The US Science Foundation intends to preserve the observatory’s lidar and use it for further research. The Arecibo weather station and the visitor center will continue to operate.
After the commissioning in 2016 of the Chinese FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope) with an antenna of 500 m in diameter, Arecibo Observatory lost its title of the world’s largest radio telescope with a filled aperture array. Nevertheless, until recently, the observatory took an active part in various scientific projects.
The main instrument of the Arecibo observatory participated in the refinement of the sidereal period of Mercury’s rotation; measuring the periodicity of the pulsar in the Crab Nebula; the discovery of the first binary pulsar PSR B1913 + 16; the discovery of the first “millisecond” pulsar PSR J1937 + 21; the discovery of the pulsar PSR 1257 + 12, in which the first planets outside the solar system were later found and other important scientific discoveries. The Arecibo telescope was used in the SETI search for extraterrestrial civilizations, and it was from here that the Arecibo Message was sent on November 16, 1974, a radio signal containing a message composed by astrophysicists Frank Drake and Carl Sagan.
The Arecibo Observatory has often become the setting for science fiction novels and films. Here the final battle takes place in one of the James Bond tapes – GoldenEye (1995) and most of the events of the fantastic film Contact (1997), based on the novel by the same Carl Sagan. The opening scene of Arthur Clarke’s 2010: Odyssey Two takes place directly on the set next to the Arecibo antenna emitter. The antenna of the radio telescope has also appeared in video games, so the multiplayer maps of Rogue Transmission for Battlefield 4 almost one to one repeats the shape of a real telescope. Press F to pay respects to Arecibo.