August 1, 2021

Arecibo radio telescope collapse report asked by Congress

2 min read

As the government is trying to evaluate the next step for the Puerto Rico facility, Congress asks for a radio telescope collapse report for the incidence that occurred in December at Arecibo Observatory. The Congress needs that report by late February, and come after the observatory’s supporters are rallying on behalf of the facility, such as a public petition asking for White House support to rebuild the site and the governor of island allocating $8 million to the support.

The Arecibo Observatory’s 305 meters (1000-foot-diameter) radio telescope was damaged on 1st December 2020. It was destroyed by its 900-ton instrument platform that came down with a great speed, hitting the dish. The facility has been in existence for 57-years, carrying out scientific discoveries. It was also an excellent place for education and tourism for Puerto Ricans, although the dish has been vulnerable for quite some time. For instance, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the Arecibo owner, had plans of closing down the radio telescope in 2017. This did not happen as the company entered into partnerships to cover the site operating costs.

The observatory had a hard time last year because many bad things had happened to the facility. In August, the platform supporting cable gets out of its socket. On 6th November, as the engineers were starting to repair the line, another supporting cable slipped out. On 19th November, NSF said that it would withdraw the radio dish, saying the platform is not safe to repair. Then, on 1st December, the platform crashed.

The radio telescope’s future

After the radio telescope crashed, many want to know what happened to it. People also want to know the preparedness of the federal government towards the Arecibo facility. Activists and Puerto Rico students have presented petitions to the White House, and it has promised to respond within 60 days. Arecibo Observatory will then be rebuilt if the petitions garner 100,000 signatures within 30 days.

The petition is asking Congress to allocate funds for building a new Arecibo radio telescope that has more capabilities compared to the old telescope. The Act states that the NSF would give a report, indicating the causes of destruction, the extent of damages, how to get safely rid of debris, the conservation of Arecibo Observatory facility and its surroundings, the process of establishing a comparable technology, and any cost estimates.

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