Huge Puerto Rico radio telescope to close in blow to science

Famed Arecibo telescope, on the brink of collapse, will be dismantled

Arecibo Observatory’s Iconic Telescope Will be Decomissioned Following Cable Failure

"Our question was not if the observatory should be repaired but how", said Ralph Gaume, director of NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences in a statement.

The engineering firm hired by UCF to lead the inspection and fix work on the radio telescope, Thornton Tomasetti, advised that fix work would be too risky to carry out.

The massive radio telescope that was situated at Arecibo Observatory is now in danger of a catastrophic failure.

"The telescope is now at serious risk of unexpected, uncontrolled collapse", he said.

The observatory was damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017 and was affected by earthquakes in 2019 and 2020.

The Arecibo telescope has been widely used by astrophysicists as well as atmospheric and planetary scientists since the early 1960s. However, considering the safety of the workers involved in the everyday operations of the telescope, this decision to demolish the structure is to be taken.

"What I love the most about working with Arecibo is how it is a community institution; it has broadened Puerto Rican participation in science in immeasurable ways", says Puerto Rican astronomer Kevin Ortiz Ceballos via Twitter, and one of many whose admiration for the observatory inspired them to study the stars.

The telescope consists of a radio dish that's 305 metres (1,000ft) wide with a 900-tonne instrument platform hanging 137m (450ft) above. Even though attempts were made to fix the structure, it was very risky, and the cables used to support the structure are no longer strong enough to carry the load for a long duration.

The independent, federally funded agency said it's too unsafe to keep operating the single dish radio telescope - one of the world's largest - given the significant damage it recently sustained.

On November 6, one of the main steel cables of the telescope broke, causing further damage and leading officials warned that the entire structure could collapse. The platform is suspended by cables connected to three towers.

The news saddened numerous more than 250 scientists that have used a telescope that is also considered one of Puerto Rico's main tourist attractions, drawing some 90,000 visitors a year.

Now managed by the University of Central Florida (UCF), the Arecibo dish is located in a natural hollow. "At a time when public interest and scientific curiosity about space and the skies has re-intensified, there remains much to understand about the data that has been acquired by Arecibo". The facility experienced budgetary constraints, but ultimately remained open both for the sake of scientific research and for benefiting Puerto Rico as a whole. The release states the goal is to keep as many parts intact for future reuse.

Turkey's Erdogan, Saudi king agree to solve issues through dialogue