Arecibo Observatory has perished

Better Days

Just before eight in the morning on December 1st of last year, Ada Monzón was at the Guaynabo studios of WAPA, a television station in Puerto Rico, preparing to give a weather update, when she got a text from a friend. Jonathan Friedman, an aeronomer who lives near the Arecibo Observatory, about an hour and a half from San Juan, had sent her a photo, taken from his sister-in-law’s back yard, of the brilliant blue Caribbean sky and the green, heavily forested limestone hills. In the picture, a thin cloud of dust hovered just above the tree line; the image was notable not for what it showed but for what was missing. On a normal day—on any day before that one, in fact—a shot from that back yard would have captured Arecibo’s nine-hundred-ton radio-telescope platform, with its massive Gregorian dome, floating improbably over the valley, suspended from cables five hundred feet above the ground. Accompanying the photo was Friedman’s message, which read, simply, “Se cayó ”—“It fell.”

Every year since Arecibo’s completion, in 1963, hundreds of researchers from around the world had taken turns pointing the radio telescope toward the sky to glean the secrets of the universe. It had played a role in the fields of radio astronomy and atmospheric, climate, and planetary science, as well as in the search for exoplanets and the study of near-Earth asteroids that, were they to collide with our planet, could end life as we know it. There were even biologists working at Arecibo, studying how plant life developed in the dim light beneath the telescope’s porous dish.

7 thoughts on “Arecibo Observatory has perished

  1. Update says:

    Organizations Partner to Rescue Petabytes of Data from the Arecibo Observatory
    Quantum Astronomy Could Create Telescopes Hundreds of Kilometers Wide : Astronomers hope to use innovations from the subatomic world to construct breathtakingly large arrays of optical observatories (Scientific American)

  2. p/s says:

    In Chile’s dry Atacama Desert, stargazers are scanning the clear night skies to detect the existence of life on other planets and study so-called “dark energy,” a mysterious cosmic force thought to be driving the accelerating expansion of the universe.
    Central to the race to peer into distant worlds is the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), a $1.8 billion complex being built at the Las Campanas observatory and which will have a resolution 10 times higher than the Hubble space telescope.
    The telescope, expected to begin operation by the end of the decade, will compete with the European Southern Observatory’s Extremely Large Telescope — located further north in the same desert — as well as the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) being built in Hawaii.
    “This new generation of giant telescopes is aimed precisely at detecting life on other planets and to determine the origin of dark energy,” said Leopoldo Infante, director of the Las Campanas observatory.

  3. Update says:

    “Arecibo observatory scientists help unravel surprise asteroid mystery
    A team from the observatory publish their findings ahead of Asteroid Day, a U.N. designation aimed at increasing awareness about the threats some asteroids pose.”
    “…Zambrano-Marin is now inspecting the data collected through Arecibo’s Planetary Radar database to continue her research. Although the observatory’s telescope collapsed in 2020, the Planetary Radar team can tap the existing data bank that spans four decades. Science operations continue in the areas of space and atmospheric sciences, and the staff is refurbishing 12-meter antennae to continue with astronomy research.
    “We can use new data from other observatories and compare it to the observations we have made here over the past 40 years,” Zambrano-Marin says. “The radar data not only helps confirm information from optical observations, but it can help us identify physical and dynamical characteristics, which in turn could give us insights into appropriate deflection techniques if they were needed to protect the planet.”

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