Sean Bean did it

Those catastrophic hijinks atop the telescope, and the explosions, couldn’t have been good for the structure.

Seriously, and sadly, the Arecibo radio telescope has collapsed. It’s done.

A huge radio telescope in Puerto Rico that has played a key role in astronomical discoveries for more than half a century collapsed on Tuesday, officials said.

The telescope’s 900-ton receiver platform fell onto the reflector dish more than 400 feet below.

The US National Science Foundation had earlier announced that the Arecibo Observatory would be closed. An auxiliary cable snapped in August, causing a 100ft gash on the 1,000ft-wide (305m) reflector dish and damaged the receiver platform that hung above it. Then a main cable broke in early November.

Rather than blaming Sean Bean, though, I should note that this is another example of the decay of our scientific infrastructure on Donald Trump’s watch. You don’t he really cares about a radio telescope, or Puerto Rico, do you?


  1. numerobis says

    Trump doesn’t care, but the NSF hasn’t really cared in a long time either. Arecibo has been on minimal funding for ages.

  2. birgerjohansson says

    Dubya will be remembered for letting priceless artefacts from the dawn of civilisation get looted.
    Dubya will be remembered for many and varied acts of vandalism and crimes against humanity.
    School children in the future will find it difficult to tell them apart, the way we cannot keep track of all those crazy Roman emperors.

  3. xohjoh2n says

    I wonder why after the first cable broke they didn’t slowly winch everything else down to the ground.

  4. says

    @xohjoh2n: As I understand it they first tried repairing the damage, but this was suspended due to safety concerns. Once damage and decay reaches a certain level the structure is basically f*cked and it becomes cheaper and safer to just let it collapse on its own.

    I assume it could be rebuilt from scratch using the original plans, but I don’t know if it could compete with more modern facilities.

  5. komarov says

    It’s a pity Arecibo never achieved Notre Dame levels of fame. Still, here’s a call to all the excessively rich people out there: Here’s another prestige project for you to generously donate your small change to to stop the public from thinking about how preposterously rich you are and why. Good PR for you, a slightly dated science facility for the world.

    Re: Erlend Meyer (#4):

    Even a modernised Arecibo telescope probably couldn’t compete with arrays. It would no doubt be welcomed just for the sake of having another facilitly, but if asked I’d guess most astronomers would prefer to build something better, if less iconic, than Arecibo II for the same money.

    At least now Arecibo can be an icon for the continuing failure of governments all over to invest in infrastructure. Maintenance costs money, no maintenance costs a lot more.

  6. DonDueed says

    The unique feature of Arecibo was that it could transmit as well as receive. It was able to produce radar imagery of objects in the solar system. No other instrument of anywhere near its scale could do that.

  7. naturalistguy says

    They’d already decided to scrap it due to safety concerns, which are obvious now in hindsight.

  8. consciousness razor says

    It’s clearly not Sean Bean’s fault. Pierce Brosnan is the one who jammed the gears at 1:40 in the clip, which somehow started the fires and explosions … thus ensuring the satellite would deorbit (since a woman couldn’t actually get all of the credit for hacking it successfully). Then he dropped Sean Bean onto the dish, which would probably cause significant damage on its own, but the falling platform (due to the strange explosions) certainly finished the job and guaranteed that Sean Bean got to scream a bit more while he was murdered. However, of course, that all happened at a secret base in Cuba, not Arecibo.

  9. Larry says

    What does one do with the remains of a telescope 118 acres in size, not to mention miles of cable, all the electronics, etc.? Do you simply cut the remaining support cables, let it fall, and then walk away? Clearing away the remains will cost a fortune. Who’s going to pay for it?

  10. joeeggen says

    @komarov: even though it was nearly six decades old, Arecibo was a one-of-a-kind instrument that will be difficult to replace. The single dish design had a lot of photon-gathering power. With a 304.8m (1,000ft) diameter dish, it had over 5 times the light-gathering power of the Very Large Array (VLA), which consists of 27 dishes of 25m diameter arranged in a Y-shaped interferometric array. This means that while the VLA had a greater angular resolution (i.e. could see finer detail), Arecibo could could see fainter sources. Arecibo was also part of the Very Long Baseline Array, which is an interferometric array that spans from Hawaii to Germany.

    In fact, Arecibo was doing cutting-edge science right up until it was taken offline. A friend of mine is part of a consortium that was using Arecibo to monitor several faint pulsars (rapidly spinning neutron stars that emit strong, regular radio pulses) to study gravitational waves from supermassive black hole binaries ( Arecibo was the only instrument with the sensitivity and geographic placement to monitor many of the pulsars that are central to this work. And that’s just one example of a project that depended on this observatory.

    The loss of this facility is truly a tragedy not just for a few astrophysicists, but for the advancement of human knowledge as a whole.

  11. Snarki, child of Loki says

    Visited Arecibo in the late 90’s, split off from the usual tour, and had a great chat with one of the postdocs in the control room.

    Turns out, they were a-okay with the “Goldeneye” filming crew, they were very respectful: told them ‘stay out of this area’, and no problem.

    The Hollywood crew for “Contact”? Bunch of assholes.

  12. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I had a tangential relationship to Arecibo. Seti@Home piggy-backed on the received signals and sent work units out to us volunteers for processing. Never found ET, but felt I was supporting long term very iffy scientific research, which made me feel good. The only way I see the Arecibo Radio Observatory being rebuilt is for some billionaire to provide the funds, and of course, take the naming rights. Not really planning on that happening.

  13. Patrik Holmstrom says

    @xohjoh2n #3

    I wonder why after the first cable broke they didn’t slowly winch everything else down to the ground.
    That is pretty easy to explain. There is no winch.

  14. Patrik Holmstrom says

    @#6 DonDueed

    The unique feature of Arecibo was that it could transmit as well as receive. It was able to produce radar imagery of objects in the solar system. No other instrument of anywhere near its scale could do that.

    The Goldstone 70 m steerable dish is the second best AFAIK. It has about half the power and a much smaller diameter but due to the inverse r^4 law (the inverse square law gets you both coming and going with active radar) the range is significantly better than one could naively assume, about half compared to the Arecibo dish. Still a significant loss though.

  15. nomaduk says

    It’s been a long time since I’d seen GoldenEye, but, having since been treated to Casino Royale, it’s pretty amazing just how bad those older Bond films sucked.

  16. kaleberg says

    Arecibo has been scientifically obsolete for over a decade, more like two decades. It is fixed size, so it can’t increase resolution or gathering capacity. Unlike a modern radar telescope, it can’t be used to zoom in and out. It has had a hard time finding a scientific mission for years now, so it hasn’t been getting a lot of grant money to fund operations let alone improvements. It’s sad to see it go. I suppose it could have been turned into a museum years ago like The Dish in Australia, but the site is out of the way for tourist traffic.

    I’ll blame Donald Trump for a lot of stuff and feel 100% justified, but end of Arecibo is one of handful things he didn’t have a hand in.

  17. Silentbob says

    @ 17 nomaduk

    Well if you feel like that, my advice would be to never watch a Roger Moore Bond. X-D

    Goldeneye was the first one made after the collapse of the USSR. It featured a new female M (*gasp* I know, right?!) who summoned Bond to her office and flat out told him he was “a sexist misogynist dinosaur”. So it wasn’t all bad.

    Back on topic: Yikes!

  18. wzrd1 says

    The problem with trying to repair the facility was that the mountings for the cables had degraded and the concrete itself was crumbling.
    So, the full concrete structure needed replacement and was obviously unsafe when the cable mountings pulled from the concrete. A couple of hurricanes only hastened the inevitable.
    Still, it is sad to know that a historic artifact of such scale has been destroyed.
    Still, if it ever is to be replaced, the concrete and metals can be recycled for use in the replacement.

  19. Trickster Goddess says

    @#9 Larry:

    What does one do with the remains of a telescope 118 acres in size

    Leave it as it is and let the jungle take it over. It will be a gift to future archeologists.

  20. Ridana says

    “managed by the University of Central Florida.” Well, this was inevitable. (j/k, I’ve nothing against the University, just Florida)