Arecibo Observatory: a worldwide loss

The news that the telescope of Arecibo will be dismantled due to the risk of collapse is “devastating”, not only for the scientific community in Puerto Rico, but for the entire world. This, due to the importance of this facility for scientific research and for the identification of asteroids that could represent a danger to our planet.

For Mónica Feliu Mójer, communications director of Science Puerto Rico (Science PR), the largest collective of Puerto Rican scientists in the world, this news turns out to be a severe blow that will end up impacting the entire scientific community in general.

“This is devastating for the global scientific community. The Arecibo radiotelecope has been a fundamental piece in a variety of discoveries, some of which have even won the Nobel Prize (1993 Nobel Prize in Physics by Dr. Joseph Taylor and Dr. Russell Hulse). It is an installation that is unique in the world “said Feliú.

In passing, he highlighted the cultural importance of that installation, classifying it as a “cultural icon.”

You can also read: Arecibo Observatory telescope to be dismantled due to collapse risk

The impact of this loss, according to the director of Science PR, is so great that it exposes humanity to any activity of asteroids that transit on routes close to our planet, since it represented a unique space in its class.

“The radio telescope plays a fundamental role in the discovery of possible asteroids that may be a danger to planet Earth, that may pass by or that could collide with us. That role is super important in protecting our planet. Right now there is no facility in the world that can replace the radar capabilities that the radio telescope has. So in that sense, it is not only a loss for Puerto Rico, it is one for humanity “, said Feliu Mójer.

The Arecibo radio telescope, one of the largest in the world, had been operating as a global resource for research for 57 years until the United States National Science Foundation (NSF) announced today, Thursday, that after evaluating the structure, it was determined that it is in danger of “catastrophic failure” and that it cannot be stabilized without risk to construction workers and facility personnel.

Feliu Mójer not only regretted the situation but also included the actions of the NSF in the face of the first failures that were presented in that scientific facility of world caliber.

“It makes me question why when the first cable broke, which was in August, nothing was done to attend to and stabilize that structure so that another cable could break. At the point where we are, it is easy to say ‘it cannot be saved’, but why weren’t proactive actions taken to protect the radio telescope by the National Science Foundation, which is the agency that primarily funds the radio telescope. What actions were taken to stabilize the platform where the radar piece is located? “, I ask.

Likewise, the director of Ciencia PR held the government responsible for not following up on the problem that this structure had been facing since August and classified it as “negligence.”

“Why didn’t the government take proactive actions to advocate for the situation to be addressed, knowing the importance of the radio telescope for both science and the country? It is a scientific icon that goes beyond science, it is a cultural icon of Puerto Rico. It is a tourist, economic asset. Obviously I am saddened by what this can mean for world science, for science in Puerto Rico and for science education. But what hurts me the most is that this is the result of that negligence and lack of proactive actions. For me, this is a symptom of a bigger problem and that is that in Puerto Rico we do not invest in infrastructure in general as well as in science “, Feliu denounced.

In turn, the director said that long before its physical structure began to deteriorate, the radio telescope had already been experiencing a silent economic collapse due to cuts in the funds allocated for its operations.

“The Observatory has been facing consistent budget cuts, it seems to me that this year it was only facing a reduction of $ 6 million dollars that will take effect from 2022. So the radio telescope has been facing many challenges in the last years to be able to maintain its operations ”, concluded Feliu Mójer.


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