When the second cable came loose over the gigantic antenna at the Arecibo Observatory, the scientific community “held its breath” and waited. There was hope that something could be saved, but the Gregorian Dome collapsed on the giant plate on the morning of December 1, creating a hole in astronomical research that, according to scientists, cannot be filled.
In terms of size, Arecibo’s gigantic antenna had already been overtaken by China’s five-hundred-meter spherical aperture radio telescope (FAST). Even so modern, FAST is not capable of doing the same thing as the Puerto Rican observatory: transmitting signals.
“Arecibo was one of the few installations capable of reflecting the radar beams of planets, moons and asteroids to make high-resolution measurements of their shapes and surfaces,” physicist and researcher Megan Bruck Syal of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory told Scientific American (whose work focuses on planetary defense).
This is the field where the observatory is practically irreplaceable. Its planetary radar has no similarity between terrestrial radio telescopes, giving researchers, in the case of asteroids, enough data to calculate the route and the potential of one of them to collide with Earth.
Among her achievements are sending the first communique transmitted to deep space in 1974; capture the first evidence of the existence of gravitational waves and the first rapid radio explosion (FRB); and be the most important paper installation in confirming the existence of the first exoplanets.
The observatory has survived devastating hurricanes, but not the lack of money – even the advancement of technology has not taken the old observatory out of the game. In 2006, the National Science Foundation (NSF), the institution responsible for Arecibo, decided to deactivate it in 2011. The local community and especially the world scientific community rose and saved the observatory, but the money to maintain it decreased every year.