But infrastructure ages, and 60 years isn't a bad run. What comes next? Clearly there's going to be a capabilities gap for a while, but now that it's 60 years after its original design, what kind of design is going to replace it? Do we even need giant monolith dishes anymore?
Hoping a radio astronomer can chime in here. For example, I know out in New Mexico they have a distributed array of dishes (literally called the "Very Large Array", oh scientific creativity ) where, my understanding is, a bunch of computers stitch together all the individual signals and effectively get a resolution better than any single dish can. Is a design like that now state of the art, or does a monolithic design like Arecibo still give capabilities unique to single large dishes?
Infrastructure can also be maintained and last longer than this, which is why I'm personally sad. Had Arecibo always had the ~60 year timeline, it would've been a bittersweet retirement, like Voyager. In this case I just feel like it's gone before it should. Arecibo has been receiving reduced funding since the early 2000s .
The end of an era, although thankfully not of science mega-projects. There's still plenty of cool ones operating or under construction.
Rather than a large number of people painting it for a small period of time, which requires a startup and close down overhead; they have instead resourced it so that they can keep a small number of people employed permenantly who accumulate expertise and minimise the mobilisations costs.
Whoever downvoted me, thanks a bunch. Not sure why.
Running a team of painters still costs more than nothing. The cost of painting doesn’t cover the cost of ongoing inspections for metal fatigue etc etc. Engineering reviews, government oversight and so on.
Large bridges, especially with vehicle traffic, vibrate quite a lot and this is causes major ongoing concerns with fatigue, which means extensive monitoring along with the painting. More costs (not saying it’s unjustified).
Keeping a team going is efficient as you say, but more expensive than nothing.
As you say, it would be a lot of work to maintain if they wanted to keep Arecibo running.
Except you get exercise and fresh air.
For those that don't know, paint should be considered a non-optional component of most iron or steel objects, since paint serves the important role of preventing rust formation. It's less important in most uses of aluminum, since aluminum oxide tends to form a protective layer instead of flaking away.
With smaller boats labor is a higher fraction of construction costs vs raw materials. Going big results in massive increases in efficiency which almost paradoxically shift things to a shorter ship lifespan.
What about the Eiffel Tower? Or Blackpool Tower. That proves it can be done.
(Saying that, for example, 300-series stainless, around 30-40% chromium and nickel, "is iron", could be fairly criticized this way. Mild steel not so much, and that was what I really had in mind with the statement, although I concede I didn't say so.)
But if it is obsolete, then that is another matter.
Is a GoFundMe campaign outside of the realm of possibility? I know that I'd contribute to such a worthy effort, but only if the rest of the players would pledge to fund current operations.
The biggest GoFundMe campaign according to Wikipedia only raised $25 million in 2020 dollars (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GoFundMe#Notable_projects, Bannon's et al's fraudulent We Build the Wall project). Arecibo cost $9.3 million to build in 1963 dollars (https://ethw.org/Milestones:NAIC/Arecibo_Radiotelescope,_196...), which is about $80 million in 2020 dollars. Even after one-time construction costs, millions in ongoing operating costs and maintenance would be required as well.
So, no, a GoFundMe campaign to rebuild it is not a possibility. Even hot-button political issues can't get close to the needed funds, and this is not ever going to be a hot-button issue.
Assuming the people supplying the operational funding want to continue to do so it shouldn't take more than low millions to get it going again.
Construction has a lot more costs these days - have to take care of the environment, not kill your workers...
 https://lisa.nasa.gov/ , https://www.esa.int/Science_Exploration/Space_Science/LISA
Whereas I live in fear that James Webb will suffer a failure during launch or deployment that just turns it into a very expensive explosion.
My impressions is the neglect comes from having done all the useful things it could do ages ago, and not finding anything new to help with in the areas of science that gets funding.
The state of the art interferometry arrays are ASKAP and MeerKAT currently, in the sense of being the newest and being precusors of the SKA which is the biggest project right now.
In terms of best in class, it varies with the specific frequency and which bit of the sky you want to look at and also with what you consider an observatory: the Event Horizon Telescope that resolved the M87 black hole has the worlds best resolution at their mm wavelengths, but it's really a bunch of existing telescopes collaborating and not a purpose built facility.
Here, for example, is Arecibo on the cover of Nature, in 2018: .
And you might want to look into NANOGrav : you'll be hearing a lot more about it (I promise) in one or two years, depending on publication timelines.
And it's too bad the NANOGrav risks getting its results delayed by the inability to extend observations on half its sources, but the loss of Arecibo will not doom the entire project: again not conclusive proof that Arecibo added a unique capability.
The "proof" shows Arecibo was still very useful and finding new things and this disaster will significantly delay research. (As a side note; delays in research can easily mean the death of that research as funding is often time-bound)
Somewhere in this there is a larger story of useful projects not receiving enough funding because they aren't sexy enough.
The VLA may simulate the resolution of a 36 km dish, but it has the sensitivity of a 130 meter one, considerably less than Arecibo's 305. You're ultimately limited by signal vs noise and can't make up for the receiving area that simply isn't there, no matter the width of the baseline.
This makes interferometers and stationary giant dishes different tools, suited to different types of observations. Arrays are not good at imaging extended diffuse sources.
China's FAST telescope was designed without transmit, mostly to save on suspended weight. Its focus cabin is only 30 tons.
As the object moves in the sky, these dots move around and sort of "fill out" the image in Fourier space, so you get coverage that could look like this: http://www.aoc.nrao.edu/~vlbacald/idx/lowd_uv.gif but it's still not 100% full.
The advantage of a telescope that is a single large dish like Arecibo is that this plane is completely filled. The resolution is more or less the same in all directions. The main disadvantage, of course, is that it is embedded in the ground and can only look at what is directly overhead. (They can maneuver the secondary dish to look at things a little bit away from directly overhead, but I seem to remember it only being a few degrees.)
: See this page for those images and more details: http://www.aoc.nrao.edu/~vlbacald/read.shtml
A logarithmic expansion of baseline distances seems to be the first thing you want in a sparse array. Ideally you want to be able to look in all directions with about the same amount of sensitivity and angular resolution. But the UV coverage of even an asymmetrical, relatively sparse array like the VLBA is surprisingly good, because as the Earth rotates, the antennas describe sweeping arcs on the sky.
The regular UV coverage of the VLA is great, though, for sensitivity at short duration observations.
But Arecibo was great for pulsar work. :-(
A radio astronomer here, and writing opinion for all that's worth.
I visited Arecibo once and stayed for a short project for 3 months. It was awesome, and they have a fabulous small astronomy team doing some really interesting science.
My mentor and long-term collaborator has used this telescope since the 70s, and she will be devastated. This dish has produced so many unexpected discoveries, solid science of highest calibre, and has stayed at the edge of science over 50+ years. It's sad to see such a sudden end.
There are three variants of radio-telescope design:
1. monolith dish (Arecibo or Green Bank)
2. Network of dishes (Very Large Array, or VLA, in New Mexico)
3. Network of individual dipoles (LOFAR in the Netherlands)
One needs to combine all three in some ways to target different classes of astronomical problems. For example, if you want to understand the source structure, separate its left limb from the right, then you need smaller dishes separated by a large distance (like Very Large Array -- VLA). If you are looking at low frequencies of radio light, then you need dipole arrays like LOFAR. On the other hand if you are looking for giant burst of short-term energy, you are collecting light from a distant object. The more you collect, the better it is. So, single dish (or many dishes combined) works very well. Large single dish (Arecibo like) telescopes are also critical to characterize arrays like VLA or LOFAR. So, they are very useful still.
Arecibo's success gave rise to improved design of a single mammoth dish telescopes in China (FAST). So, the design stays relevant and of importance. A new telescope called Square Kilometer Array (of size one square kilometer in effective area) would in principle replace a mammoth dish like Arecibo and tackle very diverse set of problems.
However, Arecibo is like an old Volvo car that kept on going strong. You never want to junk such a old beauty even if you have a swanky Tesla standing outside your door, would you?
But AO was also a transmitter - it could pump out millions of watts to illuminate asteroids, the moon, and other orbiting objects for mono static and bistatic radar measurements. For example, images such as these  are created by receiving the reflection of energy emitted from transmitters like AO and Goldstone (I didn’t find an exact image of an AO-VLA measurement but they’re out there).
The AO and VLA had a unique relationship, in that one could precisely measure and image irregularities of any particular VLA dish panel down to a few tenths of a millimeter using bistatic radar of the moon. It’s somewhere in the eVLA library but my google fu is failing me (also google really sucks now).
They also had a few events for ham radio where AO lit up the moon and hams across the world could hear its reflection with basic equipment. 
FAST  can be considered an Arecibo replacement, see the comparison chapter on the wiki page. Though it is built in China, so some may say that it's not a replacement for the US and the West science community.
(a) Why not replace the cables?
(b) What would they do if the cables on the Golden Gate bridge also corroded like this?
The Square Kilometre Array
China already built one: https://phys.org/news/2016-07-china-world-largest-radio-tele....
Given that it's nonmilitary US government infrastructure, I doubt it will be replaced. After all, why spend money on a telescope when the government can cut the budget to lower taxes a little bit more?
In a small sidenote of an absolutely magnificent lecture by Steve Blank, the Secret History of Silicon Valley , he notes that the reason the radio telescopes were built in the 60's was because the Soviets were using air defense radars in their interiors that were hard to get information on using other methods that were available, but a few times a month a very sensitive radio telescope would get a very good view of their emissions as they bounced off the moon.
This was the cause of the massive radio astronomy boom during the 60's that built all the western radio telescope megaprojects that have produced so much great scientific data.
: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTC_RxWN_xo (radio telescope talk at 50m30s or so)
Part of the plot is that a radio astronomer at Arecibo discovers intermittent Alien radio signals originating from the Alpha Centari System. The protagonists can't figure out why the Alpha Centari's are transmitting such strong radio signals and why they are intermittent. It turns out that their planet doesn't have an ionosphere to reflect broadcast radio waves, so the inhabitants instead bounce radio off the moon to broadcast it back to the surface.
Arecibo only picked up the radio signals when they bounced off the moon at the right angle.
The origin of radio telescopes in the 60s must be the kernel for that bit of plot.
The NSF budget had been steadily growing in real terms, and is now over 3 times larger than in early 80s (8 times in nominal terms). If Arecibo has not been getting enough money to maintain it, and if there is no plan for new telescope in its budget, it’s not because of “budget cuts”, but rather because of spending decisions.
I do believe that we are getting less than we used to for the spend, but it’s clear that it’s not budget cuts that are responsible: rather, it’s the productivity of science is falling, and so is efficiency of the government, despite growing expenditures.
Republicans lower taxes sometimes.
They re-allocate budget from one thing to another.
They don't cut the budget.
Please cut out the sarcasm. Let's be nice to one another. (And if you didn't mean it to be sarcasm, never mind.)
One day we'll have synthetic aperture radiotelescope swarms in space. For now, it's a better use of money to improve our earth-based systems first.
I visited Arecibo in the early 90s (sophomore year of college). My family was in PR for a family trip, and as I'm not interested in pools or the beach (which is why my mom and sister went), my dad and I drove up into the hills to see it.
It was before there was any visitor center or tours. There was a little control room with some instruments and a large window you could look in, and a catwalk over to about the edge of the telescope. There was not really much to see, and they weren't set up for people who wanted to visit.
I bought a poster at local giftshop from a dusty bin of Arecibo telescope prints (I was probably the only one who bought one), and the proceeded to go off and get my advanced degree in deep space communications (coding theory and DSP). I would say seeing Arecibo was part of why. I wanted to play with toy like that.
Sorry to see you, Arecibo. At least it had an effect on me.
If not, what is the coolest thing you've gotten to play with?
First, Aricebo as a space observatory was a serendipitous accident. It was originally designed just to be an atmospheric observatory. The original idea and calculations for the dish were done in a masters thesis (maybe doctoral) and, it being the late 50s and early 60s, almost immediatly got funding just like anything else at the time with physics or science attached to it. Fast forward a few years. They build the thing and realize the student made a factor-of-10 error in his calculations, but in the right direction. Arecibo was 10x LARGER than it needed to be to do the atmospheric experiments it was designed for. Turns out, they could bounce radio waves off the moon and get a response. They could hit Mercury and hear something. They eventually could even hit Jupiter. (Side fun fact: the range was limited not by the sensitivity of the receiver, but by how far the earth rotated during the flight time of the radio waves. Anything past Jupiter and Arecibo rotated out of the receiving window before the radio burst could return.)
Second, Arecibo isn't just an active radio telescope as mentioned before; it's an active microwave experiment. To study the dynamics of atmospheric plasma, Arecibo could focus microwave transmissions at different altitudes, exciting small patches of air into a plasma. It would then immediately listen to study the cooling and reionization properties of the atmosphere.
Arecibo had a strong run, providing scientific insights for over 50 years. RIP, Arecibo. You maybe have been nestled in mountains down here on Earth, but you were still a Great Observatory to me.
I wonder, if a simple CSS radial gradient was available, to easily create a realistic image of the Sun, might people (someone; anyone) use that instead of the usual yellow circles and assorted misleading colorfulness? Something like , but for its suboptimal choice of white point (so whiter in the center), and maybe the rim edge isn't quite right. Perhaps homeschoolers might pick it up if it was posted... somewhere?
 http://solar-center.stanford.edu/SID/activities/SunDetermine...  https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/16622/need-help-si...
In 2013 there's no image. In 2014 the Sun is yellow-orange. In 2015 it's white. In 2016 it's briefly orange again before going back to white. At one point it's sort of eye-of-sauron. Finally today there are two images, one white and one yellow-orange. Further down the page it's blue.
Hmm, one might make a simple MVP radial gradient from a slice of that Sun_white image.
> constant war
Well, there's varied esthetics. And misconception avoidance awareness (spotty) and prioritization (varied - some astronomy outreach knowingly does aphysical art thinking it more engaging). Wikipedia has Talk for memory - no permalinks, no "writers notebook". So content crafted with care and carelessness has similar editability. There's no "if you're going to change the Sun image, of course read the extensive easily-found backstory discussion of that" (maybe - I didn't check). When a misconception is widespread in books, editors come with book in hand. When misconceptions create confusion, errors are overlooked, and yet more misconceptions are created as people try to fill gaps, to reconcile incompatible conceptions. The Sun article's current "(its light is closer to white than yellow)" for example. So things roil. Misleadingly colored H-R diagrams providing cover for a simply broken Stellar_classification table. Errors engendering confusion, providing niches for more error. A Darwinian ecology of misconceptions, creating endless forms most wonderful. Or... well, a toxic sludge, and a tragedy of crippled human lives and potential... but that perspective can be demotivating. Science education content is really quite awesomely bad.
What I'd really like from Wikipedia is a git-blame (separated by periods in addition to line breaks) for identifying the time of unnoticed vandalism so I can see what else was modified at the same time and should thus be ignored.
Grownups knew I was interested in science and physics. Sometimes they would ask me to explain what E = mc² means, and I had a ready answer:
"When you accelerate matter to the speed of light squared, it turns into energy!"
Just inflating something like that would take some weight off the cables and allow a more controlled and safer process.
It sounds like the big fancy telescope will stop conducting science but these huge projects tend to attract ancillary projects.
Here's Arecibo on the cover of Nature in 2018: . Yes, we are doing similar work at FAST as well, but one is not a replacement for the other.
And here's a link to NANOGrav: . I promise that you'll hear more about NANOGrav in a year or two, depending on how publication timelines work out. And it wouldn't be possible without Arecibo - now that it's gone, we have to seriously contemplate how to move on beyond our 15-year data set (already in the can).
If anyone is wondering what's next: as others have noted, there's China's FAST antenna. That's a dish format telescope similar (but bigger) to Arecibo. The politics of this inevitably makes some scientists nervous.
There is also the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) coming online soon. This is phased array format, similar to VLA, and covers a similar frequency band as Arecibo (unlike VLA). I have to wonder if this factored into the calculus to let Arecibo go.
In some sense I'm sure it did, but the USA is not a part of the SKA collaboration, so it's not a direct replacement.
I understand the decision to dismantle the failing structure which is currently unsafe and tricky to repair.
But might a new one be built in its place? How can we push for that?
It sounds like the towers should be rebuilt, all of the cables replaced, etc. And obviously the dish at minimum needs repair. I can't imagine anything would be salvageable from a complete collapse, but if they can bring down the observatory safely, it might not be crazy to think they could erect a new one over the dish at a later date.
Ignoring geopolitical matters I wonder if an installation on the same latitude in the mexican mountains would be better spot to build such a thing.
The hurricane destroyed a lot of the already failing power and port infrastructure, for instance.
The answer is to invest in rebuilding this, or else puertoricans will continue to lose local sources of inspiration. That's a loss for America.
It's really the same problem as regulating "dirty" and "unsafe" factories out of the USA. We don't get fantasy-world factories in the USA. We just lose jobs and all control, with the products produced in terrible conditions abroad.
So, do we want to suffer the cost of the regulations? If so, simply keep the status quo with the Jones Act. If not, then deal with the problem directly, and eviscerate the regulations that are making Americans uncompetitive.
I can't speak to the Stennis Space Center other than to say it needs a new name...
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five-hundred-meter_Aperture_Sp...
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RATAN-600
I know is way more expensive but that's how every thing else is. Every next step is dangerous and expensive but it's they only way to go forward.
I wonder how they could have built it to be longer-lived/more maintainable. Did they not put enough thought into cable replacement when putting a bunch of add’l load onto it? Perhaps working without enough margin?
Also, it might not be intensely obvious from pictures, but this thing is in the middle of rainforest. Very humid. So it’s not all surprising it would degrade quickly.
Anyways, I wonder what they’ll do with that whole space. There’s a whole visitor center and school kids coming and going every day (well, maybe not this year).
Not surprising and easy to work into maintenance costs.
The problem, like with many things on the island, is actually doing the maintenance.
They mention a delay of more than a few months of data from Arecibo would have very negative consequences, so an outright loss must be a very, very significant blow for them.
Arecibo cost $9.3 million in 1963. This is equal to $79,000,000 now
An F-35 costs about $100 million.
Based on that, I'd be happy to give up a single F-35 to rebuild Arecibo.
Well, it looks like war gets the public funds.
I’m not sure the ROI analysis is particularly straightforward, all things considered.
To be clear. The US' >5000 Nuclear warheads is more than enough to cement its place as the most important military power in the world.
you think that the "don't buy 2 F-35s and fix arecibo" train of thought ends at fixing arecibo? like, if the military hawks would just give up enough budget to fix it, all the other cries to reduce their budget would cease?
I’m sure the people at PR would rather see the money invested on infrastructure with higher impact on their citizens life.
In the past hour I've only been seeing people from the island lament this. Twitter, Facebook, Reddit.
I think a lot of people understand that not spending the money on this doesn't mean that that money will appear somewhere else.
The rest, I'm pretty sure that if you tell them that there's different buckets where money comes from and that money simply won't shift into others, would quickly say repair/rebuild it.
There's a sense of pride with the radio telescope. I can only speak for what I've seen, but a lot of people visit on school field trips. We all know it.
You're being grossly uncharitable considering what he's already been able to accomplish at SpaceX. The thing about Musk is that when even 5% of his hype comes to fruition, substantial positive change follows. Can you say the same about your employer, or about yourself?
Yes, in many respects he behaves like a stereotypical rich eccentric whackjob, somebody who will probably end up in Howard Hughes's old hotel suite surrounded by bottles of his own urine. It sucks that any defense of Musk inevitably has to be framed with a disclaimer like that. But like Hughes, he gets important shit done when nobody else is even willing to try, and he isn't afraid to place long bets on long shots.
What, creating a rocket less powerful than Saturn V? That was over 60 years ago.
But yeah, agreed with your larger point, the lack of progress has been nothing short of pathetic. Until recently.
Eh, does it? I've never heard of Elon Musk being interested in space science, only space business. An observatory doesn't make shareholders any money.
I remember seeing this thing in the 1997 movie Contact:
Maybe a good car analogy would be if somebody ran a red light and smashed into your car. You may have been a bit behind on your car maintenance, but it was the crash that destroyed your car.
No, it's a symbol of the degradation of US political capability in the 21st century.
To be more explicit: why build a telescope like this if you axiomatically believe the free market will do everything worth doing and that the government projects are waste by definition? There was a time when those ideas weren't so dominant, and that's when the US built many of its nice things that we still celebrate today.
The political leaders of the CCP are all trained engineers and it helps not having to explain your actions to fickle voters.
I've heard this a lot, and I know they value engineering as a cultural trait, but according to a quick search, it doesn't seem as prevalent now. Around 2010, apparently 8 of 9 Politburo members were scientists or engineers, but that appears to have dropped in recent years.
Like seriously. What? It's like people talking about how unprofitable public transit is.....
That's not really the point, is it?
“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance” — Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus
So, just like the 60s. Per Wikipedia:
The Apollo Command and Service Module was built by North American Aviation (now part of Boeing) and the Lunar Module by Grumman (now Northrop Grumman) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_(spacecraft)). The Saturn V was build by Boeing, North American, and Douglas (the latter two now part of Boeing) (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_V).
But fundamental research on a huge scale is something that governments are axiomatically the best supporters of. Let's not drink the Ayn Rand Amazing Kool-Aid here.
That was also a time when three news networks controlled everything on TV. Print media had "journalistic integrity" (i.e. was buddy-buddy with existing institutions) so you never got to hear about it when the police kicked in a black guy's skull for no reason or when a construction project turned into a boondoggle handout for someone well connected. It was also a time with less government. People didn't have to put up with (as much) bureaucratic run around in order to build a deck on their house or to open a business.
The reason there's no faith in government these days is because there's people telling us how that sausage is made and we eat so much of it we're sick of it.
I think the problem is in the way things are handled vs the regulations themselves. I believe there very much should be legal standards and licensing processes for building residential and business structures. I also think that getting things inspected and approved should be a really easy, streamlined, cheap, non-profit process. Hell, I'll go one further: I think there should be financial encouragement to bring outdated unsafe facilities up to code, in cases where there isn't already such a thing (and there usually is).
"The free market shall decide" and "let the buyer beware" are great until you eat a sandwich and find out the ground beef was cut with sawdust, or buy a house with a deck, have a party, and the deck collapses because the previous owner built it wrong.
Or have pay for expensive destructive inspections of every house you intend to buy (as part of your due diligence), because you can assume literally nothing about it. The current regime of building codes and inspections is far more efficient than that (e.g. make sure the inspection happens before covering stuff up).
"Let the buyer beware" doesn't necessary cut down on hassle, it just moves it around and in many cases makes it more onerous.
This view isn't new, right now half the US is celebrating that we have elected a career politician because he is better then the millionaire that was previously elected...
People in the streets are angry because the media is telling them to be angry. How many riots and demonstrations occurred after Snowden revealed that the government was breaking the law and spying on it's citizens? Or when the telecom companies were given retroactive immunity for doing so?
Media may have been something different in years past, but from now on, the only time it will cease telling people to be angry is when it's more profitable to spend all its time telling them to be afraid. It's not as though there isn't reason to feel dissatisfaction with our rulers. 
It's enough to look at the current holocaust in the Dakotas to understand the true value of that "philosophy".
This is simply a decision on which kind of projects to fund not a reduction in science as a whole.
For reference, the nation's leadership in the 1950s included the likes of Senator McCarthy, and his famous hearings ran through about 1954. Have you heard of the "Red Scare"? No, Arecibo is the brainchild of the Cold War military-industrial complex, originally meant to help steer anti-ballistic missiles (as part of the DEFENDER program), and we should not shed too many tears that those days are over.
Those terms don't have a consistent meaning. What was considered typical "capitalist free-market" thinking then is not typical "capitalist free-market" thinking now. For instance: Atlas Shrugged was only published in 1957 and Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom in 1963, and it took until the 1980s for those ideas to start to have wide influence in popular culture and government.
I don't think the human thirst for knowledge is lacking, but the political will, regardless of a project's economic profit, to support it is always in short supply. Much of the Cold War era funding for scientific ventures without a clear economic payoff was driven by the desire to beat the Soviets or approved on the basis that they would contribute to our Cold War defense complex. The Arecibo Observatory itself was borne out of a need to understand the ionosphere for the purposes of tracking nuclear warheads.
The Chinese are not approving these projects out of a love of science. They are doing what the US did 60 years ago: science as a means of national pride and prestige.
You'd have to be very blinkered about progress elsewhere to think that, notice how there are multiple apparently good covid vaccines already?