Thursday, December 3

The radio telescope of the Arecibo Observatory, in Puerto Rico, will stop looking at the universe


Puerto Rico and the international scientific community are in mourning.

The emblematic Arecibo Observatory permanently loses its radio telescope, a gigantic facility built 57 years ago that has attracted thousands of tourists, students, the filming of several films, and especially scientists from all over the world.

At 305 meters long and 900 tons, it was one of the largest on the planet. From here astronomers observed exotic deep space objects and events, detected asteroids orbiting close to Earth and could threaten it, discovered pulsars and mysterious explosions of distant radio waves.

But in August one of the cables that support it gave way, and then another. The risk of it falling to the ground has forced its dismantling. But the US entity that owns it promises to give new life to the Arecibo Observatory.

Scientists from all over the world wanted to live the experience

Scientists from around the world wanted the experience of joining the Arecibo Observatory, in part through programs like the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, which served to investigate deep space radio transmissions that could come from intelligent worlds and expand into space. documentation on gravitational waves.

The list of investigations and programs that have been developed in Arecibo over the past 6 decades is long and includes incredible discoveries such as the distribution of polar ice on Mercury in 1994, or the repetition of fast radio bursts from outside our galaxy. in 2016.

The study of phenomena such as super black holes and information on light and gravitational waves were also crucial in this center, which will no longer be the same as before.

The Arecibo Observatory has also been important in science education in Puerto Rico, with more than 100,000 visits each year.

Although the radio telescope will not return, hope is now set to reactivate other Observatory operations such as the LIDAR facility, which serves geospatial research, a visitor center, educational areas and an external facility on the island of Culebra.

Resort and movie set

But the scientific part, which is basic, is not the only one, since the Arecibo Observatory was one of the main centers of tourist interest on the island, just behind the historic center of Old San Juan and the El Yunque forest.

The arrival of tourists was essential for this strip of northern Puerro Rico in which one of the sources of wealth was the visitors attracted by this emblematic Observatory with one of the largest radio telescopes in the world.

The Observatory was also for many years a claim for Hollywood, which used it for some of its most remembered films.

In the Hollywood production “GoldenEye” Pierce Brosnan can be seen portrayed as Agent 007, in a film directed by Martin Campbell, climbing stairs and ramps at the Arecibo Observatory in scenes of his fights against enemy spies.

The no less emblematic Jodie Foster also appears at the Arecibo Observatory in “Contact”, a film in which she can be seen right in front of the gigantic radio telescope dish.

The spectacular facilities and jungle surroundings were a real claim to shoot thrillers, science fiction or adventure films.

A pride for Puerto Rico

The news of the goodbye of the radio telescope was picked up by the representative of Puerto Rico before Congress in Washington, Jenniffer González, who even said that everyone on the island has it as one of their great prides, a scientific tool of world caliber treasured by all the scientific community.

Everything can now be remembered after the US National Science Foundation (NSF), the entity that owns the historic facility, announced this Thursday through a statement that in the face of the imminent collapse there was no other option.

The managers of the observatory have said goodbye with a tweet thanking them for all the messages of support received.

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