Today the National Science Foundation announced that, sadly, the Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico would soon be decommissioned. This news comes after the telescope suffered damage from Hurricane Maria in 2017 and two snapped auxiliary cables.
Following all of the damage, a review of what would be necessary to repair it was done. What was revealed is that there would be no possible safe approach to repair the telescope; the damage was too significant. Part of the National Science Foundation’s statement read, “Arecibo Observatory cannot be stabilized without risk to construction workers and staff at the facility.”
The biggest issue with repairing the telescope lies in the 900-ton platform that is suspended over the dish. Significant damage to the cables that support the platform makes it impossible to repair without putting engineers’ lives at risk.
Decommissioning the Arecibo telescope means putting an end to nearly six decades of service. The facility was originally built in 1963 by the US Air Force under the initiative of Professor William Gordon of Cornell University. From there, the facility served a vital role in making many breakthrough scientific discoveries.
Scientists who were planning to use the Arecibo telescope for work will be relocated to other facilities, if possible. Other aspects of the facility, such as an atmospheric science instrument, should survive the decommissioning if handled correctly. However, if safety remains a concern at the site, those other assets will be lost as well.
Michael Wiltberger, head of the National Science Foundation’s Geospace Section, stated, “While I am disappointed by the loss of investigative capabilities, I believe this process is a necessary step to preserve the research community’s ability to use Arecibo Observatory’s other assets and hopefully ensure that important work can continue at the facility.”