Arecibo Studied 191 Asteroids That Flew Past the Earth. All the Data are Available in a new Paper

Even from beyond the grave, Arecibo is still contributing to new discoveries. Back in October, researchers released a “treasure trove of data” from what was then the world’s most powerful radio telescope on the radar signatures of near-Earth asteroids (NEAs). Not only will these observations help defend the planet if any of those asteroids happen to be hazardous, but they can also help the burgeoning asteroid mining industry scan for targets.

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Arecibo Won’t Be Rebuilt

Damage to the 305-meter telescope at Arecibo Observatory, after its collapse on Dec. 1, 2020. The remains of the instrument platform are visible on the telescope’s dish. Credit: NSF.

The National Science Foundation announced last week that it won’t rebuild or replace the iconic Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which collapsed in 2020. Instead, the NSF says they have solicited calls for proposals to build a multidisciplinary educational center at the site.

Additionally, the plans do not appear to allow for any future science or observing from the other facilities at the Arecibo site, as the NSF said they will not provide any “operational support for current scientific infrastructure, such as the 12-meter radio telescope or Lidar facility,” also on location.

The announcement has been met with disappointment and disbelief.  

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What is the Arecibo Message?

A team of astronomers from UCLA searched for "technosignatures" in the Kepler field data. Credit and Copyright: Danielle Futselaar

On November 16th, 1974, a coded radio message was broadcast from the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The message contained information on mathematics, humanity, the Solar System, DNA, and the Observatory itself. The destination for this message was Messier 13 (NGC 6205 or “The Great Hercules Cluster”), a globular star cluster located about 25,000 light-years from Earth in the constellation of Hercules.

This historic signal was the Arecibo Message, humanity’s first attempt at Messaging Extraterrestrial Intelligence (METI). Almost fifty years later, the Message remains a focal point in the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), the ethics of messaging, and why we haven’t heard from any extraterrestrial civilization (the Fermi Paradox). What’s more, a growing movement today would like to see more METI efforts mounted in the future.

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A New Radar Instrument Will Try To Fill the Void Left By Arecibo

Observational astronomy is dependent on its data, and therefore also dependent on the instruments that collect that data.  So when one of those instruments fails it is a blow to the profession as a whole.  The collapse of the Arecibo Telescope last year after it was damaged by Hurricane Maria in 2017 permanently deprived the radio astronomy world of one of its primary observational tools. Now a team at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) hopes to upgrade an existing telescope at the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia to replace the failed Puerto Rican one and provide even more precise images of near Earth objects in the radio spectrum.

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The Arecibo Observatory Platform Has Collapsed

Aerial view of the damage to the Arecibo Observatory following the collapse of the of the telescope platform on December 1, 2020. Photo courtesy of Deborah Martorell.

Early this morning, the 900-ton instrument platform suspended above the Arecibo Observatory collapsed and crashed down on the iconic telescope’s giant dish. The collapse occurred at about 7:55 a.m. local time, officially ending any possible hopes of refurbishing the famous observatory in Puerto Rico.

Images of the collapse and subsequent damage started appearing on social media this morning; the National Science Foundation then confirmed via tweet that indeed the observatory had collapsed. They also said no injuries were reported.

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Arecibo’s Damage is so Serious and Dangerous, They’re Just Going to Scrap the Observatory Entirely

Credit: UCF

This past summer, the Arecibo Observatory suffered major damage when an auxiliary cable that supports the platform above the telescope broke and struck the reflector dish. Immediately thereafter, technicians with the observatory and the University of Central Florida (UCF) began working to stabilize the structure and assess the damage. Unfortunately, about two weeks ago (on Nov. 6th), a second cable broke causing even more damage.

Following a thorough review, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that the observatory cannot be stabilized without risking the lives of construction workers and staff at the facility. As such, after 57 years of faithful service and countless contributions to multiple fields of astronomy, the NSF has decided to commence plans for decommissioning the Arecibo Observatory.

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A Second Cable has Failed at Arecibo, Causing Even More Damage to the Radio Observatory

Credit: UCF

Another main cable that supports the Arecibo Observatory broke last week, falling onto the reflector dish and causing more damage. This is the second time a cable has snapped on the iconic radio observatory in just three months.

The new damage is an unfortunate and devastating setback for the observatory, just as repairs from the first accident were about to begin.

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An Update on the Damage to the Arecibo Observatory

Credit: UCF

On Aug. 10th, a little over a month ago, the iconic Arecibo Observatory suffered serious damage when an auxiliary cable broke and struck the reflector dish. This cable struck the observatory’s Gregorian Dome on its way down and twisted an access platform before landing on the reflecting dish itself. The impact created a gash over 30 meters (100 feet) in length and forced the observatory to shut down until repairs could be made.

Since then, teams have been busy working to stabilize the structure and determine the cause. These teams are made up of technicians from the observatory and the University of Central Florida (UCF), which manages the facility for the National Science Foundation (NSF). For the past few weeks, they have been meeting with experts from various fields and laying the groundwork for an investigation and a rigorous repair schedule.

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A Broken Cable Smashed Part of the Arecibo Observatory

Damage at the Arecibo Observatory in August, 2020. Credit: NSF/NAIC

The Arecibo Observatory is an iconic institution. Located in Puerto Rico, this National Science Foundation (NSF) observatory was the largest radio telescope in the world between 1963 and 2016. While that honor now goes to the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) in China, Arecibo will forever be recognized for its contributions to everything from radio astronomy to the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Unfortunately, the Arecibo Observatory suffered serious damage when on Monday, Aug. 10th, an auxiliary cable that supports the platform suspended above the telescope reflector dish broke. The cable struck the Gregorian Dome (which sits on the underside of the platform) before landing on the reflector dish, which created a gash over 30 meters (100 feet) in length and forced the observatory to temporarily shut down operations.

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