Science | January 2, 2021 6:00 am

Puerto Rico Begins Effort to Rebuild Arecibo Observatory’s Radio Telescope

Puerto Rico's government has allocated funds towards the effort

Arecibo Observatory
This aerial view shows the damage at the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables holding the receiver broke.
RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images

Late last year, a structure that had been used for decades to explore outer space came to an abrupt end. This would be the radio telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico — also known for its role in the climax of Goldeneye — which rapidly declined beyond the point of recovery. While the observatory will continue in some form, the radio telescope itself collapsed in early December.

An article in The New York Times from before the collapse spoke to the telescope’s importance to the scientific community, as well as how it’s sparked an interest in science among many in Puerto Rico. “Think about what the Golden Gate Bridge means to San Francisco, Statue of Liberty to New Yorkers,” wrote planetary scientist Ed Rivera-Valentín on Twitter. “Arecibo is this and more to Puerto Rico because it has gone beyond an icon.”

Now, the government of Puerto Rico is taking a first step in rebuilding the fallen structure. Engadget reports that Puerto Rico’s governor, Wanda Vázquez, allocated $8 million towards the rebuilding effort. As writer Jon Fingas notes in the article, building a new radio telescope (or a new facility in general) will cost much more than that. As an opening to a larger fundraising effort, it’s a welcome sign.

In a statement to Engadget, the National Science Foundation said that it “cannot comment on any potential future plans at this time.” The agency did strike an optimistic note, stating that observatory is not closing. “Research involving archived data from the 305-meter telescope will continue and NSF is looking for ways to restore operations with the observatory’s other infrastructure as soon as possible, including the 12-meter telescope and LIDAR facilities,” the agency added.

What will the future of this observatory be? It remains unclear — but this move from Puerto Rico’s government is grounds for optimism.

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