The world’s largest single-aperture telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, is on the brink of collapse. The lifespan of this telescope is about to get over. The dismantling process will start soon by NSF. Arecibo Telescope has served radio astronomers for the last 57 years. The decision to dismantle the telescope came in August 2020, when one of the support cables snapped.
About Arecibo Telescope
When built in the early 1960s, it worked towards the study of the ionosphere. But, then the scientists used it as an all-radio observatory. Arecibo Telescope finds its application in radar astronomy, radio astronomy, and atmospheric science. It consists of four radar transmitters of 20 TW at 2380 MHz. Puerto Rico’s location gives an ideal advantage to the Arecibo Telescope. It helps to view planets in the Solar System over the Northern half of their orbit. The University of Central Florida, Yang Enterprises, and UMET operate the telescope. The AT is a source of pride for the country and the global scientific community.
The AT has a glorious history in terms of Space Explorations. Some of them are:
- First concrete evidence of Neutron Star
- Aleksander Wolszczan and Dale Frail detected exoplanets in January 1992
- Detection of prebiotic molecules methenamine and hydrogen cyanide from starburst galaxy Arp 2020.
- To sense intelligent life from other cosmos – SETI & METI Project
- Track near-Earth asteroids
Why is it Being Decommissioned?
Recent natural disasters impacted the 900-tonne structure suspended 150m above the dish. The major one was Hurricane Maria in 2017. Another Tropical storm Isaias, struck in August 2020. One of the platform-support cables broke. It damaged the telescope, including a 100 ft (30 m) gash in the reflector dish. The dent also includes damage to the Gregorian dome. NSF ordered the replacement of the cable broken. But, before being replaced, in November 2020, another cable wire snapped. As a result, NSF decided to decommission the entire Arecibo Telescope Program. But, NSF also declared that the rest of the observatory would remain open.
Many challenges are lying ahead related to this dismantling process. The scientists have not laid the plan to deconstruct the structure with safety. Due to the severe risk near the area, scientists were unable to evaluate the current status. Also, to run the scientific operations, UCF and NSF should seek other telescopes with similar niches. Hence, it is essential to assess the situation at a faster pace. Also, the adoption of alternatives will bolster Space research.