The second-largest radio telescope in the world is shutting down

The US National Science Foundation has just announced it is going to begin decommissioning the famous Arecibo Observatory, the 1,000-foot-wide, 900-ton radio telescope located in Puerto Rico.

It’s a huge blow to the astronomy community, which used Arecibo for 57 years to conduct an enormous amount of space and atmospheric research.

What happened: Arecibo has withstood decades of wear and tear from various storms and other natural disasters, including damage by Hurricane Maria in 2017 and a few earthquakes in January.

Engineer evaluations of the damage found that the structure is “in danger of a catastrophic failure” and the telescope could collapse at any moment.

For decades, Arecibo was uniquely capable of studying the atmosphere and objects in space in ways no other instruments could, especially when it came to making radar observations of distant planets, moons, and near-Earth asteroids.

Other parts of the observatory will remain intact, such as the lidar facility that’s important to studying space weather and magnetosphere interactions.

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