The Iconic Arecibo Telescope Goes Quiet After Major Damage

Matthew N. Henry

Early Monday early morning, a cable suspended more than the Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico broke and left a one hundred-foot-very long gash in the dish of the legendary radio telescope. The three-inch diameter cable also triggered injury to the panels of the Gregorian dome that is suspended hundreds of feet above the dish and residences the telescope’s receivers. It is unclear what triggered the cable to split or when radio astronomers using the telescope will be ready to resume their investigate.

“This was an auxiliary cable utilized to aid the excess weight of the system, and we are in the approach of examining why it broke,” suggests Zenaida Kotala, the assistant vice president for strategic initiatives at the College of Central Florida, which manages the observatory. “We are working with engineers to figure out a system for repairs. Our aim is to get the facility operational as shortly as it is probable to do so safely and securely.”

Astronomers have utilized the Arecibo radio telescope to research the cosmos given that 1963. For most of its lifetime, the observatory was far and away the most significant telescope of its kind in the environment. (It was only not too long ago surpassed by China’s Quickly radio telescope.) Its one,000-foot radio dish is created into a natural depression in the surrounding hills and functions like a big ear listening for faint radio indicators from galaxies far, far away.

“By getting even larger, it is simply just extra sensitive,” suggests Seth Shostak, the senior astronomer at the nonprofit SETI Institute, a primary investigate establishment in the lookup for extraterrestrial intelligence. “Just as a larger optical telescope can see fainter objects, so much too can a even larger radio telescope ‘see’ points that are fainter.”

The Arecibo radio telescope has been utilized for a wide range of science experiments and was at the centre of a amount of firsts that have improved our knowledge of the universe. In 1994, astronomers finding out a pulsar with Arecibo observed the first proof of a world orbiting an additional star. Arecibo also detected the first millisecond pulsar, a variety of quickly rotating star that is utilized as an astrophysical clock in the hunt for gravitational waves, and the first repeating Quickly Radio Burst, a short pulse of higher-electrical power radiation that scientists are only starting to fully grasp.

The historical past of the Arecibo telescope is also deeply entwined with the historical past of SETI. The planetary astronomer Frank Drake, who carried out the first radio SETI lookup the very same calendar year that design on Arecibo began, served as the observatory’s director for yrs. In 1974, he and Carl Sagan utilized the telescope to transmit the world’s first interstellar message to a star program twelve,000 gentle yrs away. It was a quick pictorial message depicting human beings, our DNA, and even the Arecibo dish itself. Considering the fact that then, Arecibo’s SETI functions have largely been targeted on listening for ET. (While in 2009 the artist Joe Davis proficiently plugged his Apple iphone into the dish and utilized it to transmit a second interstellar message.)

“We were being incredibly saddened by the news out of Arecibo,” suggests Andrew Siemion, the director of the Berkeley SETI Investigation Center. “Arecibo is a singular asset in SETI and we pretty substantially appear ahead to its return to science operations.” For yrs, Siemion and his colleagues at Berkeley gathered radio knowledge from Arecibo for [email protected], a distributed computing project that allowed any person with an world-wide-web connection to aid in the lookup for smart aliens. Previously this calendar year, the [email protected] project stopped pulling in new knowledge from Arecibo and other radio telescopes so its scientists could target on examining the knowledge now gathered.

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