After speculation of collapse, the prophecy about the world’s largest single-aperture telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, became real. Giving 57 years of service, the Arecibo telescope helped humanity (especially radio astronomers) open new research gates in astronomy. When the second wire snapped in November 2020 after the first snap in August 2020, the National Space Foundation (NSF) decided to dismantle the telescope. NSF announced the fall of a 900-ton telescope onto a reflector dish on 1st December.
About Arecibo Telescope
Cornell University’s Professor William E. Gordon formulated the idea of the Arecibo observatory in the late 1950s. Established during the early 1960s, the Arecibo telescope’s scope of the study was the Earth’s ionosphere earlier. Later, the scientists started using it as an all-radio observatory. The telescope’s capability made it a perfect choice for the scientists to detect gravitational waves and search for habitable planets in distant space. Before its collapse, scientists used the telescope in atmospheric science, radar astronomy, and radio astronomy. The telescope had four 20 TW radar transmitters that operated at 2380 MHz. The location of Puerto Rico gave ideal geographical conditions for the working of the Arecibo telescope. Hence, it helped observe and view the other planets in the Solar System over the Northern half of their orbit. The University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises, and UMET used to operate the telescope. For the global scientific community and Puerto Rico’s people, the Arecibo telescope stood as a source of pride.
The Arecibo telescope had received accolades for its discovery in space explorations. Some of them are:
- First concrete evidence of a Neutron Star.
- Detecting prebiotic molecules methenamine and hydrogen cyanide from starburst galaxy Arp 2020.
- To sense intelligent life from other cosmos – SETI METI Project.
- Tracking of near-Earth asteroids.
The most crucial amongst them all would be the discovery of exoplanets. Scientists like Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail detected exoplanets for the first time in January 1992. The discovery of binary pulsar (two neutron stars) in 1974 using the telescope helped the scientists Russell A. Hulse, and Joseph H. Taylor won the Nobel Prize in Physics.
Many natural disasters occurred near the area of Puerto Rico in recent times. Some of them impacted the telescope suspended 150m above the reflector dish. It was Hurricane Maria in 2017 that created the most significant dent and weakened the physical structure of the telescope. Then the tropical storm, Isaias, struck in August 2020. As a result, some wires that supported the platform snapped and broke from one side. Also, the Gregorian dome attached to the body of the telescope faced many damages. As a result, NSF had to give the orders to replace the cable wire that got snapped. Before the replacement, when the second cable wire faced a fracture, NSF decided to decommission the entire Arecibo Telescope Program last month.
Impact of Collapse
As of now, scientists are trying to assess the damage. They are analyzing the environmental damages that happened due to the collapse in the nearby area. Once the analysis part is over, they will devise a mitigation plan to stop the spread of such damages. Also, the scientists are trying to revive the educational and other scientific infrastructures inside the observatory area. They are offline in current times after the collapse. Some of the scientists were already mourning when NSF decided to decommission the entire structure. The global scientific organizations and communities are tweeting with sad comments on the collapse of the Arecibo telescope. Also, dark clouds hover over the 130 staff members about their future who managed this observatory for so many years. Planetary scientist Ed Rivera-Valentin described the essential aspects of the telescope earlier this year from NPR’s podcast.
The news came out when Raman Lugo, director of Florida Space Institute at the University of Central Florida, announced the telescope’s collapse. The telescope was the perfect link between terrestrial and extraterrestrial activities. It has led humanity to discover many new things related to space. Some of the scientists tagged the collapse as a profound loss.