NSF: Repair the Arecibo Observatory, do not decommission it

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The Arecibo Observatory radiotelescope, located in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, is the world’s second largest radiotelescope. Since its founding in 1963, it has played a pivotal role in astronomy, as it has been extensively used to study systems such such as planets, asteroids, pulsars, and dwarf stars, as well as to search for signs of extraterrestrial life. 


In addition to all of the groundbreaking research that has been conducted and continues to take place at Arecibo, the Observatory has become an essential component of education and science for Puerto Rico and the United States, and it is a source of inspiration for young students to explore and study sciences. The Observatory employs more than 120 people, and every year around 200 scientists and many graduate students visit the facilities to conduct research projects. Additionally, over 100,000 people from all over the world visit the Observatory’s Visitor Center every year, with 30% of them being students; the Observatory is also home to educational, professional development, and science communication programs and workshops for teachers, students, and college students. All of this strongly underscores the importance the Observatory has for science, education, economy, and for diversity and inclusion efforts.


In August of 2020, one of the telescope’s support cables detached, and on November 6 a second cable broke while the delivery of auxiliary cables to address the first incident was being arranged. On November 19, the National Science Foundation announced it had decided to decommission the telescope instead of repairing it, and that it would begin preparations for the decommissioning and demolition over the coming weeks. 


The Arecibo Observatory is an iconic feat of engineering and it is of incredible scientific and cultural importance not only to the scientific community but also to students, teachers, and the general community in Puerto Rico and the world. Therefore, we are urging the United States National Science Foundation to repair, and not to decommission, the telescope. For over 55 years, the Arecibo Observatory has been a source of scientific knowledge and of inspiration to countless people, and we must act to preserve it for future generations.


References:

“NSF begins planning for decommissioning of Arecibo Observatory’s 305-meter telescope due to safety concerns”. NSF, November 19, 2020. URL: https://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=301674 

“Environmental Impact Statement for the Arecibo Observatory Arecibo, Puerto Rico”. NSF, July 27, 2017. URL: https://www.nsf.gov/mps/ast/env_impact_reviews/arecibo/eis/FEIS.pdf 

“Iconic radio telescope in Puerto Rico to be demolished”. National Geographic, November 19, 2020. URL: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2020/11/historic-radio-telescope-in-puerto-rico-to-be-demolished/#close 

“The Arecibo Observatory” (Official Webpage). Accessed November 19, 2020. URL: http://www.naic.edu/ao/