back to article Adiós Arecibo Observatory: America's largest radio telescope faces explosive end after over 50 years of service

The Arecibo Observatory, America’s largest radio telescope, is to be blown up after the National Science Foundation decided recent damage has left it too dangerous to repair. “NSF prioritizes the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory’s staff and visitors, which makes this decision necessary, although unfortunate," its …

  1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Shirley...

    There must be an option to just partially clear the existing site and then rebuild using the latest materials and technology? Presumably the site is the ideal shape?

    1. sgp

      Re: Shirley...

      Perhaps they could call it The Golden Eye.

      1. james_smith Silver badge

        Re: Shirley...

        Or they could use Japanese technology and call it ... no, I can't go there.

        1. Kane Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Shirley...

          "Or they could use Japanese technology and call it ... no, I can't go there."

          The Eye of the Orient?

      2. Strahd Ivarius Bronze badge

        Re: Shirley...

        Well, Eye of the Sky is already taken.

        Just tell the Donald that China is the only country with this kind of device, perhaps it will prompt some action...

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Shirley...

          I wonder if that's why there was little to no Govt. help? No longer being the worlds biggest meant it's just an embarrassment to the likes of Trump. The current administration needs everything to biggest, bestest, fastest, tallest or whatever other "...est" they can come up with before funding something.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: Shirley...

            Because it's in Puerto Rico, John. Trump, xenophobic racist shithead that he is, never wanted anything to do with Puerto Rico.

    2. Brian Miller

      Re: Shirley...

      The underlying land is fine, but the dish is damaged, and there's no way to safely lower the overhead equipment. The cables snapped at 60% of their rated breaking point, indicating corrosion.

      I really hope that the incoming administration will rebuild the antenna. There have been many advances since the 1960s, and since China's telescope is larger, then that should be a goad to motivate the effort.

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Shirley...

        I remember reading articles in New Scientist in the school library in the sixties as they were commissioning Arecibo and beginning to make discoveries, at that time it was an incredible piece of engineering and really that hasn't changed, it would be a terrible shame for science and for Puerto Rico if the site is demolished without any plan to rebuild.

    3. Dr AntiSol, astrophysicist
      Unhappy

      Re: Shirley...

      I'm sure it's possible, but you'd need to have the will and the funding.

      I'm sure the will is there, it's always been an important piece of kit, but the funding at aricebo has been dangerously lacking for a long time. There were rumbles that they might have to shut it down a while back. I don't recall exactly but I'd say maybe 10 years ago. IIRC they lost a bunch of gubmint funding and had to get private donors. Even so I think they had to cut operations back somewhat. I wouldn't be surprised if the snapped cables are a result of neglect due to inadequate funding.

      I have no doubt it can be rebuilt. All you have to do is find a billionaire or two willing to pay for it. The US gubmint sure won't. Start tweeting at Elon Musk and Yuri Milner now.

      I'm really saddened by this news. It's been an amazing and inspirational instrument for a long time. :(

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: Shirley...

        Yeah, tell Musk that it's stupid and impossible and would require billions and would make him look like Iron Man if he could make it work.

        He'll be there tomorrow.

        Sometimes, that guy really does have a useful purpose.

        1. Dr AntiSol, astrophysicist

          Re: Shirley...

          Haha, good point, but I'm not really kidding. All you twitter users should totally @ elon and yuri about this

          1. My-Handle Silver badge

            Re: Shirley...

            I'm sure Starlink could use an extra ground station :D

            1. ThatOne Silver badge

              Re: Shirley...

              > I'm sure Starlink could use an extra ground station

              Actually Starlink makes Arecibo useless: The satellite sheets over it will act like a cloud of chaff, dramatically reducing the resolution.

              Also any of its active radar emissions would instantly fry any satellite flying overhead, so it has to go...

        2. Strahd Ivarius Bronze badge

          Re: Shirley...

          And were would the flame-thrower be installed?

    4. rg287 Silver badge

      Re: Shirley...

      There must be an option to just partially clear the existing site and then rebuild using the latest materials and technology?

      I imagine that might happen - but right now the plan is just to safely decommission before it falls in on itself. They can probably get emergency funding for that, whereas a new build will require a new grant application through NSF (which would/will almost certainly pass but hasn't gone through a funding request yet).

      It's appalling that a lack of maintenance has allowed this to happen (Trump, Obama & Bush are all equally culpable. US science seems to involve building stuff and funding OpEx until it's derelict with little cash available for maintenance). Trump is at fault for writing them a blank cheque after the first cable break, but this is a bi-partisan failure.

      Under the circumstances, demolition is reasonable because hey, it's a telescope and we don't want anyone killed by it. They can rebuild. But it will be a stain on the reputation of the US if replacement isn't announced in fairly short order.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Shirley...

        rg287 wrote: "Trump is at fault for writing them a blank cheque after the first cable break"

        If this were true then we wouldn't be having this conversation - they could have repaired/replaced the cables and the dish if they had been given unlimited funding (where there's a will and a budget, a way will be found). If Trump did really give them a blank cheque, regardless whether he did it in the interests of humanity and furthering our knowledge of the universe or just to make himself look better in the eyes of the scientific community, is a moot point - and totally irrelevant. Even in the context of the comment about it being a bi-partisan failure and listing the previous three Presidents, blaming Trump is simply blamestorming and does not achieve anything. What about the previous incumbents of the Oval Office since the dish was built? Should any of them be held accountable for not ensuring adequate provision for maintenance and upkeep?

        anon because, even now, saying anything that could be taken as supporting the soon-to-be-Ex President is tantamount to painting a big Trump-shaped bullseye on your back...

        1. rg287 Silver badge

          Re: Shirley...

          If this were true then we wouldn't be having this conversation - they could have repaired/replaced the cables and the dish if they had been given unlimited funding

          Bleurgh yes, Trump is at fault for not writing a blank cheque - my kingdom for an edit button (after 10mins!).

          Even in the context of the comment about it being a bi-partisan failure and listing the previous three Presidents, blaming Trump is simply blamestorming and does not achieve anything. What about the previous incumbents of the Oval Office since the dish was built?

          Trump is the one in the White House. He had the Executive Power to push emergency funding - he didn't.

          Fundamentally, this is just the way America does science - build it, cut the ribbon and then forget about it.

          America's largest radio telescope is now the 100metre Green Bank Telescope, which started construction in 1990 to replace the previous 100m dish at Green Bank. The old dish needed replacing because... it had collapsed catastrophically (probably due to a lack of maintenance).

    5. Def Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Shirley...

      Presumably the site is the ideal shape?

      For a mountain top water park? Why, yes. Yes it is.

      1. Dr AntiSol, astrophysicist

        Re: Shirley...

        Well, it IS important that we have more excellent water slides than any planet we communicate with...

    6. DS999

      Puerto Rico may not be the best location for a replacement

      Given hurricanes, rain and earthquakes.

      The desert southwest in the US would probably not be a bad spot - Meteor Crater would be ideal for a HUGE one if it weren't a tourist attraction. I imagine they could find somewhere else with a natural depression they could dig out a bit to fit. With little rain, no severe weather and no earthquakes there's plenty of federal land in Arizona or Utah that would work well for a new one.

      I agree with the comments that China having built a bigger one could possibly help get some urgency to congress to overcome the usual political battles and fund it.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Puerto Rico may not be the best location for a replacement

        Meteor Crater[0] is square, not round. Seriously, look at it. It's also the wrong shape top to bottom. Turning it into a dish would involve quite a bit more bedrock removal than one might think. Also, sinking the necessary anchors around the circumference would be problematic, due to the impact fractured rock surrounding the site.

        Utah has plenty of Earthquakes. See here for current 'quakes.

        [0] Strangely enough, it got its name from the nearest Post Office, not the rock from space ... at the time, most folks thought it was Volcanic in nature.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge
    Unhappy

    2020 strikes again.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shame

    Pity such a unique piece of kit has to have such an ignominious end. RIP.

  4. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge
    FAIL

    Not too surprised

    The overhead structure was built in mid air and had no safe way to lower it. Dismantling it and lowering piece by piece might have been possible but it would have been hazardous work. If a further cable had failed during the dismantling then everyone on the structure would have died as the structure plummeted to the ground. With the horrible terrain round the telescope building some other form of support would have been expensive and probably taken too long. Rebuilding after dropping the overhead structure would be possible but would require a lot of money. With US governments preferring to spend money on the military rather than on science there was probably no prospect of getting the required funding for a rebuild. (A few million dollars spent 10 years ago would probably kept the cabling secure for another 40 years.)

    1. Martin Gregorie Silver badge

      Re: Not too surprised

      The overhead structure was built in mid air and had no safe way to lower it.

      Not quite: it seems that the triangle was built on the ground and then raised by tensioning the cables. There are photos to prove it. Presumably it was raised far enough to let the rest of the equipment be attached before finally raising it up to the prime focal point, but I haven't seen photos showing that intermediate stage.

      However, given that one of its initial design aims was to track Soviet satellites and missiles, I'd guess that repairability was never part of its design, which is why it will be demolished rather than rebuilt. It would be interesting to know what its initial design life was: I expect thats been exceeded by a rather large margin.

      In any case, it would have become obsolescent when the Square Kilometer Array starts observing, which should be in 2027. The SKA, being a modular design, will be far more maintainable and should be more sensitive as well as providing considerably more resolution than either Arecibo or the 500m Chinese dish ever could.

      1. Dr AntiSol, astrophysicist

        Re: Not too surprised

        In any case, it would have become obsolescent when the Square Kilometer Array

        That's not true. For one, the SKA will not see the same parts of the sky, being in the southern hemisphere. And even if it did see the same parts of the sky, radio astronomy can work in such a way that multiple telescopes complement each other.

        1. Joe W Silver badge

          Re: Not too surprised

          Yes, the aperture is just ginormous when coupling telescopes a hemisphere or so apart. Plus the sensitivity of a huge dish is quite a bit better than that of an array (like the VLA, creative name that one, "Very Large Array") with the same resolution, being able to detect very faint signals is nothing that should be overlooked. Now there's two other giants, the Chinese one mentioned in the text and the Russian Academy of Science also operates (did operate? not sure) one. I think it also had a 500m or so diameter.

          1. Aleph0

            Re: Not too surprised

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RATAN-600

            Looks like the Russian one is still operational, and at 600 meters its diameter is larger than both Arecibo or FAST. However having a ring geometry its collection area is not comparable with those other two "dish" radio telescopes.

            1. Dr AntiSol, astrophysicist
              Pint

              Re: Not too surprised

              How did I not know that there's a Russian one!? Thanks!

      2. rg287 Silver badge

        Re: Not too surprised

        In any case, it would have become obsolescent when the Square Kilometer Array starts observing, which should be in 2027. The SKA, being a modular design, will be far more maintainable and should be more sensitive as well as providing considerably more resolution than either Arecibo or the 500m Chinese dish ever could.

        Not true.

        * The USA is not part of the SKA Partnership. US Astronomers have no access to SKA (this may change now!)

        * SKA is in the Southern Hemisphere. It is incapable of resolving targets that both Arecibo and China's FAST dish can see.

        * SKA can do some Planetary Radar, but it's different from Arecibo and obviously - they can see different bits of the sky (n.b. FAST cannot do radar)

        * For certain observations you just want a really big dish. Arecibo had a collecting area of 73,000m2, which is 7% of SKA - that's huge for a single instrument and gives you superior sensitivity on faint signals, even if SKA's huge synthetic aperture can give you a much larger angular resolution.

        * Losing Arecibo (73,000m2 of collecting area) from the VLBA is a major loss to all VLBA users.

        1. Dr AntiSol, astrophysicist

          Re: Not too surprised

          Thanks, I'm glad somebody with more knowledge than me on the subject chimed in :)

      3. not.known@this.address Silver badge

        Re: Not too surprised

        "In any case, it would have become obsolescent when the Square Kilometer Array starts observing, which should be in 2027."

        You can never have too many telescopes. And you are also assuming the SKA will come online when they think it will. Does anyone trust time or cost estimates involving governmental funding?

        1. rg287 Silver badge

          Re: Not too surprised

          You can never have too many telescopes. And you are also assuming the SKA will come online when they think it will. Does anyone trust time or cost estimates involving governmental funding?

          Indeed, more is always better.

          But to be fair, it could also be said that SKA is already online (in part) since various precursor facilities like ASKAP have been online since 2012. The nature of an massive array like SKA is that the "online" date is a bit artificial - the first time a Square-Kilometre worth of component parts start collecting data in unity on a single campaign. But it's really a process of building out (in some cases extant) facilities and then linking them.

  5. The commentard formerly known as Mister_C

    A brave decision

    Nobody likes to be the bearer of bad news or to be the one to make the call. NSF might not be steely eyed missile men but they do have the guts to make the right call.

    And while they clear the site, I hope they'll be planning to build back better

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Deep State in action

    All those years of SETI@Home paid off, so the only solution to avoid mass panic was to destroy the telescope.

  7. aki009

    60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

    I'm all for fixing it, but at 60 years and the obvious signs of severe deterioration, I think the best course is to tear it down and rebuild. I'm sure the necessary funds can be located somewhere. It's not like the thing is being built in outer space or something.

    1. RM Myers Silver badge

      Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

      There are a number of very old observatories still in use. The telescopes may not be state of the art, but the gap between observing hours available and demand is so great that they still are booked solid.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

        Lick Observatory, on Mount Hamilton (looking down on Silly Con Valley) still does useful work with optical kit that is over 130 years old, despite the best efforts of last August's SCU Lightning Complex Fire.

        Similar for Mount Wilson Observatory, looking down on the LA basin (has also been threatened by fires in recent years).

      2. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

        While there's no fundamental reason that an old piece of scientific equipment stops working due to age - nobody is messing around with the laws of physics (Jim!) - the issue here might perhaps be better considered in the same way as a bridge; a suspension bridge in particular.

        In this case it sounds as if the support piers are intact, but the cables are beyond repair. And with no way safely to repair them, or even to use them to lower the focal point equipment, it sounds like the engineers have made the only decision.

        It's a shame - but perhaps if another is built, it will be built in such a way as to allow future replacement of support cables? I hope it is replaced... even with existing damage I suspect that most of the dish is still reusable.

        1. PerlyKing Silver badge

          Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

          perhaps if another is built, it will be built in such a way as to allow future replacement of support cables?

          I know nothing about the original construction, but it's quite possible that it was designed with cable replacement in mind - as long as the rest of it was in good repair. With two cables already gone I imagine the safety margin is razor thin, if not already negative.

        2. ThatOne Silver badge

          Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

          > I suspect that most of the dish is still reusable

          Not if they "decommission" the suspended structure by blowing it up, as the article suggests. 900 tons of scrap metal falling are bound to definitely erase any existing remains of the fragile dish, and most likely also mess up the bowl shape of the depression.

          1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

            Can't be that difficult

            We just need a helicopter capable of lifting 900 tons. The Russians must have one of those lying around, surely. (Just checked – the Mil Mi-26 can lift 200 tonnes so we'd only need 45 of them. Failing that, maybe try contacting International Rescue. They'ed certainly have something suitable.)

            1. ThatOne Silver badge

              Re: Can't be that difficult

              > We just need a helicopter capable of lifting 900 tons

              A working antigravity device is just as likely... :-p

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

      How about a "World Beating" British Radio Telescope. A Square (Imperial) Mile affair - none of this Metric or American nonsense.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

        Good idea. The more the merrier!

        But ... Where are you going to put it? How are you going to fund it? (You know that an American Mile is 8 furlongs, same as in Blighty, right? This is a good thing, or your records at Santa Pod would be meaningless on the World stage ...)

        1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

          Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

          My mistake - I was thinking of gallons - though the US gallon has the greater volume. Typical.

          Funding is no problem - Boris is printing money or discovering more billions under the mattress in the bedroom at the No. 10 flat every day.

          Add a pole that can be used for dancing into the design and he'll write the cheque.

          1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

            Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

            Add a zip line to bring additional revenue...

            https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/jul/16/stuck-zip-wire-boris-johnson-london-2012-olympics

          2. jake Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

            Mere details, then.

            At least a pint is still a pint. (Contrary to popular belief, you can get a decent 20oz pint in most cities here in Left Pondia.)

          3. KarMann Bronze badge
            Headmaster

            Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

            Actually, the Imperial gallon is rather larger than the US gallon, by about 20%, just like the Imperial v. US quarts & pints.

            </actually>

            1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

              Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

              Probably the cause of my confusion - I was in full Boris/Brexit/Empire mode. Must remember to take my medication on time

              1. Strahd Ivarius Bronze badge

                Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

                Note that after Brexit your supply of dried-frog pills may dry up

                1. DiViDeD Silver badge

                  Re: Note that after Brexit your supply of dried-frog pills may dry up

                  Good News! There's nothing worse than a damp dried frog pill!

              2. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

                "Probably the cause of my confusion - I was in full Boris/Brexit/Empire mode. Must remember to take my medication on time"

                @Fruit and Nutcase, no wonder, especially if you're named after the flavoured palm oil low-cocoa muck that passes for Cadbury's "chocolate"*! Hie thee to Lidl or Aldi and get some real chocolate down you! (Minimum 30% cocoa in line with EU law for real chocolate and also cheaper than mass market sludge, a double win!)

                * We shall not even mention the USA's utterly vile H-brand here in polite company.

                1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

                  Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

                  It's low on the Fruit and the Nuts now. Perish the thought, at one point the H-company was thinking of bidding for Cadbury - a moot point, given what it has become.

                  Lidl - picked up some of their Cherry Liqueur chocolates yesterday

            2. jake Silver badge

              Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

              Who "actually" cares how big a unit of measurement is? My fuel tank holds the same amount regardless of whether it is calibrated in US Gallons, Imperial Gallons, Liters or Hogsheads (US or Imperial).

          4. ChrisC

            Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

            Well, if we're talking a "Square Mile" telescope, then maybe get the City of London to sponsor it...

            1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
              Joke

              Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

              Can't we just detonate the Square Mile and build our World Beating (TM) radio dish in the resulting crater...?

              Sure, it might upset a few trading banks. But from where I sit, it's a plan with no drawbacks.

              1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

                Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

                It's a bit small, but can the Millennium Dome/O2 Arena be upturned?

                1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

                  I like the idea

                  As long as they dig a hole to put it in. As a dedicated surrealist I think there should be more landmarks that are huge holes in the ground.

        2. Androgynous Cupboard Silver badge

          Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

          > How are you going to fund it?

          Don't both us with trifles, man! Britain bestrides the world like a Colossus! Blather blather something about the Industrial Revolution and winning WW2 all on our own.

        3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

          "(You know that an American Mile is 8 furlongs, same as in Blighty, right? "

          I do find it rather amusing that the USA wasn't one of the first to go metric, but no, the Republic is still happy with the mother countrys Imperial measurements system. Even though the mother country has gone about 95% metric in the mean time.

          1. jake Silver badge

            Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

            "Even though the mother country has gone about 95% metric"

            Over here, we allow the Canadians to test the ideas of your French Overlords before we make use of them. We just take the good bits, like Cajuns.

        4. jake Silver badge

          Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

          I wondered: "Where are you going to put it?"

          Answer: Malham Cove. Of course. A couple masts to the South and East and a little rigging to support the reflectors and receiver, and Bob's yer auntie.

          I'll leave it to the usual "Experts" here to figure out how to fund it.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

            Lulworth Cove is much more bowl-shaped but then you'd have Darwin candidates diving into it.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

              I thought about the Lulworth option, but decided the end result would forever be plagued with a bad case of rising damp, which tends to be hard on the instrumentation. That's if one could figure out how to budget for keeping the Channel out while the bowl was being developed.

      2. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

        Holes in the ground are grand but Jodrell Bank was built with standard gauge railway track and machinery from World War 1-era gun turrets, and can be seen from the other side of Cheshire. Imagine what we could do with a square imperial mile...

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

          "machinery from World War 1-era gun turrets... Imagine what we could do with a square imperial mile..."

          A lot of square bashing?

        2. JimC

          Re: Jodrell bank

          not to mention some secondhand bits of steam engine.

      3. JetSetJim Silver badge

        Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

        They could put it on those flat areas they're clearing in Kent, cos they'll mostly be empty, right?

      4. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

        Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

        But we do have a world beating.. Jodrell Bank springs immediately to mind (yes it's not as big but it still got a number of world firsts)

      5. Smooth Newt Silver badge
        Meh

        Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

        How about a "World Beating" British Radio Telescope. A Square (Imperial) Mile affair - none of this Metric or American nonsense.

        The main telescope at Jodrell Bank is still the third largest steerable radio telescope in the world, and five years older than the Arecibo telescope.

        It was a much different Britain in 1957 when it started operation, of course. That year the Calder Hall commercial nuclear power plant was completed and the Avro Vulcan bomber entered service.

        However, since the 1980s, successive governments have promoted financial services etc at the expense of manufacturing and technology. So, as with nuclear power and military aircraft, I very much doubt that the country now has the domestic capability to produce a comparable instrument.

        Any "World Beating" British Radio Telescope would have to be designed in China and the parts manufactured in Germany and the United States.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

          "I very much doubt that the country now has the domestic capability to produce a comparable instrument."

          The UK still has a decent engineering base. All those big steel structures all over the country are not all made outside the UK and shipped in as Meccano sets. Buildings, bridges and even large supermarkets are all in the ball park when it comes big and complex steel structures. Some of the bridges even move.

    3. Tomato42

      Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

      the universe is large and the sky is large, we don't have a capacity to observe all of it at the same time

      even when Large Synoptic Survey Telescope goes online, it will be limited

    4. Greybearded old scrote
      Joke

      Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

      Oi! I resemble that remark.

      1. dak

        Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

        Absolutely. Bloody kids!!

    5. Eclectic Man Silver badge

      Re: 60 years old? -- Time to build a new one

      Oi! Speak for yourself, aki009.

      I am 60, and still in reasonably good shape. My Garmin tracker watch app thingy says I have the V02 Max of a 35-year-old! Admittedly my star-gazing potential is somewhat limited, but I'm sure I am still useful in some ways.

  8. jake Silver badge

    Damn. What a waste.

    Hopefully this will be a wake-up call for all the other deferred maintenance around here.

    I'm not holding my breath, though.

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      Re: Damn. What a waste.

      I wonder how they're going with their highway bridges

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Damn. What a waste.

        Our highway bridges are in pretty bad shape ... especially the ones built by the Works Progress Administration. Contrary to popular belief, however, they are in no real danger of caving in en-mass any time soon.

      2. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Bronze badge

        Re: Damn. What a waste.

        (Ah, a pet topic of mine.)

        Ever since the 2007 Mpls. I-35W collapse, there has definitely been action... Slow action, thanks to bureaucracy, but action nonetheless.

        Here in Metro Detroit, many old bridges on I-94 in Detroit proper have been getting replaced or at least upgraded (patching up spalled pillars, mostly) over the last decade. There's about one new bridge a year, starting with some of the major avenues (Woodward*, Van Dyke, Gratiot, W Grand Blvd, an M-10 Lodge Freeway flyover ramp) and now some of the other side streets.

        * The Woodward replacement also allowed for installation of rails for the Q Line streetcar. Similar to what happened in Mpls with the Metro Blue Line light rail (originally called the Hiawatha Line) -- when transit is funded sufficiently, road traffic benefits in more ways than one.

  9. tekHedd

    Yeah I know it's obsolete

    But the news still made me cry, just for a second. Not so much for the loss to science. We've lost one more symbol of the things we can achieve when we really want to. Never mind that it's mostly because "we," at the time, were really scared of the dirty commies or whatever. It's still impressive in a way that smart robotic minefields never will be.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Yeah I know it's obsolete

      Old != obsolete

  10. mtp
    Unhappy

    End of a era

    Such a shame but lets hope that FAST can take over the role. Maybe some of the instruments could be moved there.

    1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

      Re: End of a era

      None of the instruments can be saved without exposing the people to extreme danger. The critical instruments are in the overhead structure.

      Perhaps someone at Microsoft or Google might mention this Arecibo problem to the big boss.

      A Microsoft Arecibo Observatory or Google Arecibo Observatory might be a good way to get many years of publicity for what would be small change for either company

      1. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: End of a era

        > a good way to get many years of publicity

        Why would they need publicity? To improve brand awareness?...

        Some clever Twitter stunt would be way more efficient for no cost at all. Last but not least, go out in the streets and start asking random people if they know what "Arecibo" is. Chances are they'll answer it's a latin dance.

      2. DS999

        Google?

        If they paid to fix it they'd want to have time on it every month to beam ads out to the stars, and aliens would come destroy us because they take ad blocking seriously out there!

        1. Evilgoat76

          Re: Google?

          You've seen Pixels? What could go wrong.

  11. Joe Dietz

    Might as well carry on with the bond theme: moonraker

    Build a replacement for sure.... on the far side of the moon.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Might as well carry on with the bond theme: moonraker

      That's two references to Moonraker today...

      https://forums.theregister.com/forum/all/2020/11/19/space_in_brief/#c_4149222

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Might as well carry on with the bond theme: moonraker

        And....two days later while driving to the shops this afternoon, BBC R4 was playing the semi-dramatised original Moonraker.

  12. HildyJ Silver badge
    Unhappy

    Reality

    The problem was that the first hurricane that hit caused the towers and instrument cluster to oscillate which knocked some cables loose from their mounts and caused others to snap. At that point it could have been repaired but the second hurricane hit and caused more damage to the cables.

    The instrument cluster weighs about 900 tons and is in danger of plummeting to the ground at any moment. The world's largest heavy lift helicopter can lift about 22 tons.

    Much as I wish it weren't so, controlled demolition is probably the best option.

    Whether anyone will rebuild a giant dish in the natural bowl of the land is a question of funding and priorities.Hopefully something can be worked out.

    1. Norman Nescio

      Re: Reality

      The problem was that the first hurricane that hit caused the towers and instrument cluster to oscillate which knocked some cables loose from their mounts and caused others to snap. At that point it could have been repaired but the second hurricane hit and caused more damage to the cables.

      <u>The instrument cluster weighs about 900 tons and is in danger of plummeting to the ground at any moment. The world's largest heavy lift helicopter can lift about 22 tons.</u>

      Much as I wish it weren't so, controlled demolition is probably the best option.

      I did have an insane thought that the US national Helium reserve could be used to string up a huge balloon to hold it up, but the first light breeze would probably blow it away, given the size of envelope needed to hold enough helium to relieve a significant amount of the weight. The instrument cluster probably isn't engineered with hard points to allow it, either. Would have looked spectacular, though. Far better than the pig between Battersea power station's chimneys.

      1. Norman Nescio

        Re: Reality

        I actually wondered how big a Helium balloon would be needed to hold up the instrument cluster.

        From the report recommending demolition, the instrument cluster weighs 1,826 kip (kilopounds), which is near enough 828,260 kilogrammes (roughly 957 tons).

        From Wikipedia a cubic metre of Helium at sea level has a buoyancy of roughly 10.9 Newtons, or in other terms, a cubic metre of Helium can lift roughly a kilogram weight. So we need enough Helium to lift 828,260 kilogrammes, which is roughly 828260 cubic metres, which is a sphere of radius 58 metres. this is lot smaller than I thought. As a comparison, the dish at Arecibo is 305 metres in diameter.

        Obviously, the balloon material would not weigh zero, but increasing the balloon to radius 60 metres would give you an extra 76518 cubic metres of Helium, which could lift roughly 76 tonnes of balloon material. For a sphere of radius 60 metres, that gives a surface area of 45240 square metres, which gives you about 600 grammes per square metre. Mylar weighs about 1400 kg per cubic metre, so a wall thickness of a third of a millimetre would work (Actual helium balloons have wall thicknesses of as little as 2 hundredths of a millimetre)

        It might be easier to have three balloons, one for each apex of the instrument cluster: each could then be roughly 45 metres in radius.

        45 metre radius Helium balloons would be difficult to build in a short timescale - but perhaps other balloons could be repurposed. NASA have some meteorological/space research balloons that have a payload capacity of 8000 lbs. Which is roughly 3600 kilogrammes. You'd need roughly 230 of them to hold the Arecibo instrument cluster, which is somewhat impractical. It doesn't look as if you could attach enough of them to relieve sufficient load to make working safe, even if weather conditions allowed.

        So yes, an insane idea. A pity.

        (Some initial playing around with possibilities was made simpler with this excellent Helium balloon size calculator: OMNIcalculator - Helium Balloons Calculator)

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Reality

          The only item you missed out of your calculations is the mechanism required to spread the load the balloon needs to support across the lifting points on the balloon such that it doesn't tear.

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Coat

      Airbags!

      As it is not safe to work inside the reflector, how about filling the dish with airbags/bladders. May be there are warehouses full of surplus Bulgarian Airbags that could be purchased at little cost. Lob them into the dish from a safe distance or use remotely controlled robots, then when the thing falls - Squish!

      Alternatively, appeal to the world's Bulgarian Airbag enhanced persons - must be running into a few hundred thousand at least to get their cancer and other ailment causing enhancements removed and donate them to the saving of the telescope.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Airbags!

        No matter how soft they made the landing, I doubt the dish itself is capable of holding what is almost a gigagram.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Reality

      900 tons? sounds like something is overengineered

    4. Nonymous Crowd Nerd

      Re: Reality

      You surely only need to lift in new cables. It all seems to me rather like a lack of will has crept into these organisations who want money for their shiny new projects and don't love the role of custodian - especially of something that is currently looking a tad shabby.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Reality

        "You surely only need to lift in new cables."

        Sounds easy! What a good idea! I wonder why they didn't think of that‽‽‽

  13. Kingbob

    Times like this i really wish people like Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos etc would put their hands in their pockets and throw some pocket change at them.

    I'm sure they could each cough up $50M without even scratching their bank accounts.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Bill Gates is otherwise occupied with vaccines. But how about Larry?

      1. jake Silver badge

        Larry's too busy staring in the mirror admiring himself to notice.

  14. Mage Silver badge
    Unhappy

    It's sad

    Very sad, though at least it's not the only large radio telescope.

  15. Greybearded old scrote
    Facepalm

    Square Miles?

    Will you idiots stop it with the imperial nonsense? We're talking about science here.

    Even dem 'Merkins use SI units for the real work.

    1. Norman Nescio

      Re: Square Miles?

      Will you idiots stop it with the imperial nonsense? We're talking about science here.

      Even dem 'Merkins use SI units for the real work.

      Wot? Like the Mars Climate Orbiter?

      1. Greybearded old scrote

        Re: Square Miles?

        A rare slip, and an illustration of why it's necessary. Even the Apollo Guidance Computer had to waste precious cycles translating proper units into miles for the crew. So I'm told. [Citation needed, but I can't be arsed.]

        1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker Bronze badge
          Pint

          Re: Square Miles?

          And displayed it in octal (base-8) because converting to base-10 would take even more time.

          Kudos to the crews who adapted to the limits of the machine.

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: Square Miles?

            "Kudos to the crews who adapted to the limits of the machine."

            True. Eventually, computers got so powerful, they could adapt to us and be very customisable and be adapted to an individuals preferences. Then Apple came along, and lately MS, who have taken away much of the choice of the users and we find ourselves back in the position have having to adapt to the machine.

      2. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

        Re: Square Miles?

        Area is nanoWales, or nothing.

        1. Eclectic Man Silver badge

          Re: Square Miles?

          I believe that particle physicists working at particle accelerators use the pico-Barn as a measure of area, as in 10^^(-12) of a barn door.

    2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: Square Miles?

      Even dem 'Merkins use SI units for the real work.

      An interesting thing about Spark Plugs in Automotive engines - for around the last 70 years or so, they are invariably Metric threaded even if the rest of the engine design is to Imperial/SAE units. Something to do with German design

  16. Norman Nescio
  17. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    SKA in miniature

    British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB) Squarial was a phased array antenna.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squarial

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: SKA in miniature

      So, just how big an array could be get from all the ones still attached to peoples houses all over the country even after all these years?

  18. First Light Bronze badge

    Higher Up

    Sadly, I don't think rebuilding in PR is a good idea. With Iota being a record-breaking 30th named storm this year in the Caribbean, a new venue is a better idea. Also, sea levels are going to rise and keep rising so, inland and at a higher elevation will be necessary for longevity.

    1. John McCallum
      Devil

      Re: Higher Up

      If has to be in a hole in the ground why not Barrington Crater in Arizona?

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Higher Up

        I was thinking Slough might be a good place. Of course, first we'd need to make it into a crater, but that would be an improvement.

      2. jake Silver badge

        Re: Higher Up

        Because the Barringer Family (note spleling), who own it outright, don't want to lose control of their cash cow?

  19. K

    This is it... Global invasion, our lizard overlords are coming

    As shown in all those recent factually accurate documentaries, such as Independence Day and Skyline, it will begin with attacks on obscure, yet critical infrastructure.

    All kneel before their omnipotent power.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: This is it... Global invasion, our lizard overlords are coming

      If that happens between now and the 20th of January 2021, it's bound to be the nearest McDonalds drive-thru to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: This is it... Global invasion, our lizard overlords are coming

        If the invaders are getting it from out TV, they'll be looking for Beltway Burgers :-)

    2. CJPM

      Re: This is it... Global invasion, our lizard overlords are coming

      Don't forget The Arrival/The Arrival 2. Increase of air pollution to make the atmosphere/temperature

      more welcoming to our new Extraterrestrial Overlords believed by some to be currently in progress.

  20. RLWatkins

    Three Bradley troop carriers.

    The original observatory the same as three Bradley vehicles to build, and it would cost about a Bradley worth to repair.

    Repair or rebuild, either option would be such an insignificant portion of the US federal budget that it's baffling that they've not made either of those decisions.

    I'll bet that if enough people reminded congress that China has a better one, we might get a decision on this.

    Edit: The Army has built nearly 7,000 Bradleys.

  21. ThatOne Silver badge

    All efforts to fix the issues have now been abandoned

    > will plan to carry out “controlled demolition” of the 305-meter telescope

    So, actually nothing changes? Business as usual?...

    (Yes, I'm aware I'm unfair to the NSF, since they can't possibly spend more money than they've got, but still, it's painful to see such an exceptional asset laid to waste for no particular reason.)

  22. tullio

    Areicubo gave data to the BOINC SETI@home project of distributed volunteer computing. Now SETI@home has been hibernated because too many data are yet to be analyzed by the Nebula program by David Anderson, the father of both SETI@home and the BOINC platform which hosts 50 odd other projects, including WorldCommunityGrid by IBM and Rosetta@home by the University of Washington, Seattle, all dedicated to research on Covid-19.Arecibo has given data also to the Einstein@home project to search for binary pulsar systems which could produce gravitational waves. It discovered 26 of them.

  23. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Panels

    Could they sell individual panels from the reflector? I expect that various museums and astronomers would like a section of the dish. This could help to fund a replacement.

    1. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

      Re: Panels

      Only after the demolition - being close to the dish at the moment is NOT advised. (The panels might not be in good shape by then however.)

  24. Duncan Macdonald Silver badge

    One possibility

    Many states in the US use convicts for fighting forest fires which is somewhat hazardous work.

    Offering a team of convicts a 5 year reduction in their sentence in exchange for them fitting new cables onto the structure gives a win either way (save the observatory or reduce the prison population).

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