On December 1st, 2020, the scientific society suffered a major setback as the 305-metered Arecibo telescope, functional since 1963, met a tragic demise. Its collapse cannot be termed as completely unexpected or even unpredictable as one of its three suspension cables snapped in August, damaging the reflective dish and dome of the observatory and hence indicating its possible collapse in the near-future. However, efforts to secure the observatory’s structure were underway when, in November, the second supporting cable broke too. Foreseeing the observatory’s end, National Science Foundation, on November 19th, 2020, announced that the telescope would be decommissioned given the damage it was suffering. But the telescope’s destruction was more natural and with it, a period of productive scientific research, of more than half a century, came to a disastrous end.
As the largest and single-dish radio telescope, Arecibo radio telescope operated to collect information about extraterrestrial life, planets, and other celestial bodies. Information collected by the telescope was huge and varying. For instance, the rotation of Mercury was correctly estimated to be fifty-nine days rather than eighty-eight. The first confirmation of the existence of neutron stars came with the determination of the rotation period of the Crab Pulsar, which rotates thirty-three times per second. First binary pulsars (pulsars rotating around a common point) were first discovered in 1974 while the first millisecond pulsar was discovered in 1982. In 1993, scientists, through Arecibo, learnt about the existence of an exoplanet, orbiting another star like the Sun. A message, expected to take more than twenty-thousand years to reach, was also sent through the telescope to possible alien civilizations.
The years of research and any dependency on the telescope for future projects associated with Arecibo have sadly come to an end. The observatory’s collapse is also being attributed to the budget cut that started since 2006. The scientific society’s resistance to the step was in vain and the telescope’s productivity and usefulness was being overlooked. Given its contributions and age, Arecibo’s excruciating end has left the astronomical society mourning.