Sad news for astronomers: Arecibo’s giant telescope to be demolished

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Washington (AFP)

The famous Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico, which threatens to collapse after two support cables broke, will be dismantled after 57 years of service, the US National Science Foundation said Thursday, a blow to the world astronomy.

Two cables supporting the 900-ton telescope instruments above the 305-meter-diameter parabola broke on August 10 and November 6.

Engineers are concerned that the other cables connecting the three-turn instruments will also break at any time, making any attempt at repair excessively dangerous.

A tool for many astronomical discoveries, the telescope is one of the largest in the world.

Priority is given “to the safety of the workers, staff and visitors of the Arecibo Observer, which makes this decision necessary, albeit unfortunate,” said National Science Foundation director Sethuraman Panchanathan.

Under the hashtag “WhatAreciboMeansToMe” (what Arecibo means to me), a torrent of messages of sadness and longing poured out on Twitter from professional and amateur astronomers who, for decades, have used the telescope for their work of observing the cosmos.

“More than a telescope, Arecibo is the very reason I do astronomy,” said Kevin Ortiz Ceballos, a local astronomer.

“I’m disappointed, my heart is broken,” tweeted Karen Masters, professor of astronomy at Haverford College in Pa., Adding a photo of herself posing with her baby near the satellite dish in 2008.

An action scene from the James Bond film “GoldenEye” takes place above the telescope, and in the film “Contact” an astronomer played by Jodie Foster uses the observatory in her quest for alien signals.

The engineering company that examined the structure concluded that the remaining cables were arguably weaker than expected, and recommended “controlled demolition”. The Foundation accepted.

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