Arecibo telescope: from prominence to ruin

The Arecibo Observatory, an astronomical observatory, is located 16 km south of the city of Arecibo in Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico’s massive Arecibo telescope, famous for its stellar contributions to astronomy, collapsed in December, leaving the scientific community in shock and anguish. The collapse was also devastating for many Puerto Ricans, for whom the observatory was culturally significant. Let’s read in detail the role of the observatory in world astronomy

The Arecibo Observatory, an astronomical observatory, is located 16 km south of the city of Arecibo in Puerto Rico. It was the site of the world’s largest single-unit radio telescope until FAST in China began observing in 2016.

The second largest single disc radio telescope in the world, Arecibo had withstood many hurricanes and earthquakes since its first construction in 1963. Even before its collapse, experts had expressed alarm over the condition of the telescope and recommended a controlled demolition of the entire structure.

Massive structure

The Arecibo Observatory, built in the early 1960s, used a 305-meter (1,000-foot) spherical reflector made from perforated aluminum panels that focused incoming radio waves on mobile antenna structures positioned at approximately 168 meters (550 feet). ) above the reflector surface.

The antenna structures could be moved in any direction, making it possible to track a celestial object in different regions of the sky. The observatory also had a 30-meter (100-foot) auxiliary telescope that served as a radio interferometer and a high-power transmission facility used to study Earth’s atmosphere.

The cable broke

In August 2020, a cable holding up the central platform snapped and made a hole in the plate. After a second cable broke in November 2020, the US National Science Foundation (NSF), owner of the observatory, announced that the telescope was in danger of collapse and that the cables could not be safely repaired. The NSF therefore planned to deactivate the observatory. On December 1, 2020, days after the NSF announcement, the cables broke and the central platform collapsed in the dish.

Platform for great discoveries

Scientists using the Arecibo Observatory discovered the first exoplanets around pulsar B1257 + 12 in 1992. The observatory also produced detailed radar maps of the surface of Venus and Mercury and found that Mercury rotated every 59 days instead. 88 days and therefore does not always show the same face in the sun.

A NASA historian has confirmed that Arecibo’s lunar radar maps were used to determine a landing point for the Apollo 11 mission, the first human landing on the moon.

American astronomers Russell Hulse and Joseph H. Taylor, Jr., used Arecibo to discover the first binary pulsar. They showed that it was losing energy through gravitational radiation at the rate predicted by physicist Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity and won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery.

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