|Arecibo in better days|
When news footage of the disastrous 2019 fire at Norte-Dame cathedral made worldwide news I was sadden and shock like most people. Setting aside its religious significance, Norte-Dame is an important part of our common human heritage, something that needs to be rebuilt and preserved for as long as possible. I'd say the same for the Great Wall of China, the Pyramids of Egypt and Central America, Stonehenge, the Parthenon of Athens, or any other historically important structure.
So it was a bit of gut punch that I recently learned the giant radio telescope at Arecibo, Puerto Rico has suffered through catastrophic failures of two of its main support cables and will be permanently closed. The remaining cables are still holding up the 900-ton scientific package platform that over the years helped detect numerous near-Earth asteroids, the first exoplanets, and other phenomena. Back in 1974 astronomers even used Arecibo to send a coherent and intentional message into deep space in hopes an alien civilization on some distant star might hear it.
Built in 1963, the Arecibo telescope has undergone numerous upgrades and continuous maintenance but appears that simple time and climate got the best of it. However a 6.4 magnitude earthquake in 2014 and Hurricane Maria in 2017 were sure to have pushed the aging structure closer to the breaking point.
It's damn tragic that such an important scientific instrument that lead to many groundbreaking discoveries will now be abandoned. Just Arecibo's work on detecting near-Earth asteroids and the dangers they pose to the planet and human civilization should be enough to have it rebuilt. Excuse me, but I do feel losing Arecibo is akin to the fire in Norte-Dame. In many ways I feel Arecibo was a scientific cathedral that instead of bringing us closer to God, helped humans understand the nature of the universe we live.
|The Arecibo message sent out in 1974.|
Legendary Arecibo Telescope Will Close Forever, and Scientists Are Reeling: Scientific American
November 19, 2020