The main entrance of the Arecibo Observatory is seen in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Nov. 19, 2020. Its dish is spherical, not parabolic, and a 900 t instrument platform is suspended some 137 m above it, by cables connected to three towers.
The dish's problems began in August when an auxiliary cable came loose and smashed into the dish below. This was one of the four primary cables, each of which should have been capable of holding 544 tonnes - but "snapped under only" 283 tonnes, according to a report then by the Associated Press.
A second, main cable that supports the observatory broke on November 6, causing additional damage to the dish and other nearby cables.
That the damage was significant is evident from satellite photographs released by Reuters, from a handout by Planet, an American company that operates a small fleet of Earth-observing satellites The photo on the left, taken on September 15, shows a patch of green near the dish's centre, where the gash lies.
The iconic radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory is being taken out of commission.
That main cable should not have failed.
The Arecibo Observatory in its prime
"This decision is not an easy one for NSF to make, but the safety of people is our No. 1 priority", explained assistant director for the agency Sean Jones. The NSF began investigating fix options along with current Arecibo operators the University of Central Florida and Yang Enterprises, but tragedy struck again on November 6th when a main cable snapped.
The decommissioning plan focuses only on the 305-meter telescope and is meant to safely preserve other parts of the observatory that could be damaged or destroyed in the event of an unplanned, catastrophic collapse, NSF said.
"While we are saddened by the loss of the facility, we commend Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan and his team for prioritizing the lives and safety of observatory staff and fix crews throughout this process".
Several science news outlets quoted managerial officials noting that the decision to dismantle the observatory hinged exclusively on safety concerns and that it doesn't reflect on the telescope's merit. "Moving forward, we encourage the National Science Foundation to continue its support for the Angel Ramos Foundation Science and Visitor Center as an active hub of STEM education and outreach programming in Puerto Rico, and to explore opportunities to use the site for exciting new science in the future". In its 57 years of operation, it endured hurricanes, endless humidity and a recent string of strong earthquakes.
Located in the humid forests of Arecibo, this laboratory has a wide reflective dish and an 816 ton structure at 137 meters in height Puerto Rico, Used by scientists and astronomers around the world for decades to analyze distant planets, detect unsafe meteorites, and hunt for signatures of extraterrestrial life.
The researchers from the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence -search for extraterrestrial intelligence-) were in charge of the transmission, which consisted of a simple pictorial message, addressed to our hypothetical companions that inhabit the cosmos, specifically launched towards the globular cluster of stars M13.