This observatory had the largest satellite dish in the world until 2016

The sad and ruinous current appearance of the famous Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico

For years, the town of Arecibo, in Puerto Rico, was famous for having the largest radio telescope in the world.

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The construction of the Arecibo radio telescope began in the mid-1950s, being financed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) of the United States and by NASA. The radio telescope made its first observations in 1963, being managed by Cornell University from that year until 2011, when it passed into the hands of SRI International. Located at an altitude of 498 meters, the dish of this radio telescope, made up of 38,778 aluminum panels, was 304.8 meters in diameter, making it the largest in the world until the construction of the FAST radio telescope in 2016. in communist China.

The Arecibo radio telescope, before its collapse (Photo: NASA).

The Arecibo observatory became very famous for its appearance in three films: "GoldenEye" (1995), "Species" (1995) and "Contact" (1997). This last film popularized the SETI@home program of the Space Sciences Laboratory of the University of California at Berkeley, launched in 1999 and which processed information captured by this radio telescope through the collaboration of millions of personal computers of volunteers. around the world, in search of possible signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life.

The 820-ton receiver platform of the Arecibo radio telescope. It is suspended with cables 150 meters above the parabolic antenna (Photo: NASA/Scientific Visualization Studio).

On September 21, 2017, the radio telescope was damaged by Hurricane María. Seismic movements that occurred two years later aggravated the damage. In 2020, two of the cables on the 820-tonne platform suspended 150 meters above the dish, where the signal receiver was located, broke. On November 7, 2020, another of the cables that supported the platform broke, damaging the plate as it fell. On November 19, 2020, the NSF announced that it would decommission the radio telescope. On the morning of December 1, 2020, disaster struck: two more cables snapped and the platform fell onto the dish, destroying it. Here you can see the video of the collapse:

The fall of the receiver caused serious damage to the satellite dish of the radio telescope. Likewise, the receiver was destroyed. Fortunately, there were no injuries. There were plans to clean up the remains of the radio telescope in order to build a new one, but eventually in October 2022 the NSF announced that the radio telescope would not be rebuilt and that a new one would not be built in its place. It was a hard blow for the astronomical community, which had one of its reference observatories in Arecibo.

The Arecibo radio telescope platform, after its fall on December 1, 2020 (Photo: NASA/Michelle Negron/National Science Foundation).

Today, there are plans to convert the Arecibo radio telescope into an educational center for scientific purposes. The old satellite dish is increasingly dilapidated, with many of its panels fallen.

The Arecibo radio telescope, after the collapse of December 1, 2020. At the time this photo was taken, the platform and many remains of the radio telescope had already been removed (Photo: NASA).

Here you can see a video of Sebastian Manuel recorded with a drone on the 20th March 2021, showing the evolution of cleaning tasks at the radio telescope:

In February 2023, the channel Walks and Walks in 360º published this video of the sad Current appearance of the observatory:

Here you can see another more recent video, published by Next Curiosity on May 21, 2023, showing how the radio telescope is doing:


Photo: NASA.

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