The U.S. National Science Foundation announced on Thursday [19 November] that the huge Arecibo Observatory Telescope located in the Puerto Rican jungle will be decommissioned after 57 years of astronomical observations.
The news comes after the observatory suffered two major cable failures earlier this year. The first incident occurred in August 2020, when an auxiliary cable supporting the telescope’s metal frame suddenly snapped. In November, the main cable supporting the observatory also broke, tearing a new hole in the dish and damaging nearby cables. This led the US National Science Foundation (NSF) to seriously question the structural integrity of the telescope, and eventually to call time on the iconic facility.
“NSF has concluded that this recent damage to the 305m telescope cannot be addressed without risking the lives and safety of work crews and staff. NSF has decided to begin the process of planning for a controlled decommissioning,” said Sean Jones, assistant director of the mathematical and physical sciences directorate at NSF.
Following engineering assessments concluding damage to Arecibo Observatory cannot be addressed without endangering the lives and safety of crew and staff, NSF plans to decommission the 305-meter telescope: https://t.co/En0S7OOhY4 pic.twitter.com/bB70XNud0v
— National Science Foundation (@NSF) November 19, 2020
The iconic telescope has been used by astronomers and scientists around the world to observe and analyze distant planets in our galaxy. In 1999, it played an instrumental role in detecting and locating the near-Earth asteroid Bennu, which NASA sent a robotic probe to in 2018 to mine for dirt samples.
Picture: University of Central Florida