Scientists share memories of the iconic Arecibo telescope, and it’s emotional

The mighty Arecibo telescope will be closed forever, the US National Science Foundation has decided.

But the radio telescope that brought us the confirmation of the first exoplanet in 1992 will undoubtedly live on in the hearts and minds of scientists, many of whom used social media to mourn the end of an era and celebrate how Arecibo lived their lives. had changed and inspired their careers.

The iconic radio telescope was the largest in the world for decades and has endured both a few hurricanes and pop culture fame in its 57 years of radiating interstellar messages and receiving radio wave signals from space.

Unfortunately, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) has decided it cannot safely repair the telescope after two surprising cable failures, one in August and another in early November, which ripped giant holes in Arecibo’s 305-meter-wide (1,000 ft) reflector dish. .

“For nearly six decades, the Arecibo Observatory has served as a beacon for cutting edge science and what a partnership with a community can look like,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a statement announcing the decision to retire the telescope.

Scientists are gutted about the news and flooded social media with posts under the hashtag #WhatAreciboMeansToMe

“What I like most about working with Arecibo is how it is a community institution,” said astronomer Kevin Ortiz Ceballos from the University of Puerto Rico. “[I]t has broadened Puerto Rican participation in science in immeasurable ways. ”

Named for the nearest town on the north coast of Puerto Rico, the Arecibo Observatory became a major center for science education and also provided invaluable training opportunities for many aspiring Puerto Rican scientists.

One of Arecibo’s greatest achievements was to observe the first series of binary pulsar stars in 1974, a discovery that would pave the way for detecting gravitational waves for the first time some 40 years later.

It has also been the scene of first dates and wedding ceremonies, Hollywood filming and dazzling school field trips.

The Arecibo Observatory is part of Puerto Rican culture and gave Puerto Ricans the chance to do science in their own backyard, said Kelby D. Palencia-Torres, a physics student at Mayaguez University of Puerto Rico.

“It’s more than an icon, a resource, a structure, it’s a community built with no barriers. Connecting people from all over the world … and inspiring young children to explore,” he said.

Puerto Rican scientist Junellie González Quiles, now a doctoral student at John Hopkins University, told how she was inspired to study astronomy after astronomers with telescopes from the Arecibo Observatory visited her summer camp.

“It led to an interest rate that only grew as the years went on, and my goal was to research the Arecibo Observatory when I was older,” said González Quiles, who later attended the Arecibo Observatory Space Academy.

“If it hadn’t been for this program at the Arecibo Observatory, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she says said. ‘I wouldn’t be a graduate student. It changed my life. ‘

The stream of # WhatAreciboMeansToMe posts reveals that Arecibo has not only sparked generations of planetary scientists, astronomers and astrophysicists; it also inspired competitions of biologists, engineers and instrument scientists.

Botanist Amelia Merced said visiting the Arecibo Observatory on a school field trip made her realize she could become a scientist.

“The presence of the largest telescope in this small island, listening to the universe in search of life. It sounded like a dream, but it was real,” Merced said.

Shark scientist Melissa Cristina Márquez thought similarly about what Arecibo meant to her as a Puerto Rican, who has pursued a career in science up to Curtin University in Australia.

“It was more than a telescope to me. It was a beacon of hope – that things and people made in #PuertoRico could thrive on the world stage,” she says said.

“Arecibo showed me that we count. I am so, so proud of this telescope and all it represents.”

Sad as it will be to watch the great Arecibo dismantle, the telescope will certainly remain a fixture for the role it played in our quest for alien life and the hunt for gravitational waves.

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