The Arecibo telescope’s long and productive life has come to an end. The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today it will decommission the iconic radio telescope in Puerto Rico following two cable breaks in recent months that have brought the structure to near collapse. The 57-year-old observatory, a survivor of numerous hurricanes and earthquakes, is now in such a fragile state that attempting repairs would put staff and workers in danger. “This decision was not an easy one to make,” Sean Jones, NSF’s assistant director for mathematical and physical sciences, said at a news briefing today. “We understand how much Arecibo means to [the research] community and to Puerto Rico.”
Ralph Gaume, director of NSF’s astronomy division, said at the briefing the agency wants to preserve other instruments at the site, as well as the visitor and outreach center. But they are under threat if the telescope structure collapses. That would bring the 900-ton instrument platform, suspended 137 meters above the 305-meter-wide dish, crashing down. Flailing cables could damage other buildings on the site, as could the three support towers if they fell, too. “There is a serious risk of an unexpected and uncontrolled collapse,” Gaume said. “A controlled decommissioning gives us the opportunity to preserve valuable assets that the observatory has.”
Over the next few weeks, engineering firms will develop a plan for a controlled dismantling. It may involve releasing the platform from its cables explosively and letting it fall.
A true end of a era, given the iconic status on the structure.Famed Arecibo telescope, on the brink of collapse, will be dismantled