Huge Puerto Rico Radio Telescope to Close in Blow to Science

The National Science Foundation said it's too dangerous to keep operating Aricebo Observatory given the significant damage it recently sustained.

  • Published 19 November 2020

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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The National Science Foundation announced Thursday that it will close the huge telescope at the renowned Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in a blow to scientists worldwide who depend on it to search for planets, asteroids and extraterrestrial life.

The independent, federally funded agency said it’s too dangerous to keep operating the single dish radio telescope — one of the world’s largest — given the significant damage it recently sustained. An auxiliary cable broke in August and tore a 100-foot hole in the reflector dish and damaged the dome above it. Then on Nov. 6, one of the telescope’s main steel cables snapped, causing further damage and leading officials to warn that the entire structure could collapse.

The telescope boasts a 1,000-foot-wide (305-meter-wide) dish featured in the Jodie Foster film “Contact” and the James Bond movie “GoldenEye” and had been operating for 57 years. Scientists worldwide have used it to track asteroids on a path to Earth, conduct research that led to a Nobel Prize and determine if a planet is potentially habitable.