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Arecibo telescope, on the brink of collapse, will be dismantled (sciencemag.org)
830 points by LUmBULtERA 12 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 301 comments





The thing was iconic... even if not everyone watching/playing Goldeneye knew it was a real radio telescope, it was nevertheless one of those science megaprojects that featured prominently in the popular zeitgeist and got more than one young kid excited about what's out there in the stars.

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 [0]) 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?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Very_Large_Array


> But infrastructure ages, and 60 years isn't a bad run.

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 [1].

The end of an era, although thankfully not of science mega-projects. There's still plenty of cool ones operating or under construction.

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arecibo_Observatory#Funding_co...


It really depends on the structure. Giant steel objects are much harder to keep intact, to the point where non iconic objects are easier to replace once than maintain for 100+ years.

Like the (iconic) Sydney Harbour Bridge which requires continuous repainting. It’s very expensive to maintain.

https://www.australiangeographic.com.au/blogs/ag-blog/2013/1...


Constant painting is also a sign of efficiency.

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.


Agreed, but it is still more expensive in terms of direct costs than ‘do nothing’ which seems to be the case for the telescope.

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.


Telescopes are not typically "do nothing. I am not aware of the details of Arecibo, but the big telescope in Greenbank has a paint crew work for 8 hours a day for multiple weeks each summer. And after several years the entire telescope is repainted and they start all over from the beginning. During the day time hours when the paint crew the is working the telescope can not be moved to point at objects, but is still taking data in the form of drift scans, recording whatever passes through the field of view of the telescope. A whole bunch of pulsars has been found that way.

To clarify, I only meant that the telescope has not been maintained (do nothing) lately as per the article. My fault for not writing more clearly.

As you say, it would be a lot of work to maintain if they wanted to keep Arecibo running.


Now I really want to know what it's like working on the team that repaints the bridge for years or decades on end.

Probably not to different from refactoring the same CRUD applications over and over to keep up with with the other poor bastards who had to do it first.

Except you get exercise and fresh air.


That’s a pretty bad analogy because you don’t refactor for maintenance. A better equivalent would be swapping out hard drives in a major storage system or servers in a data center on the scale of Google. It’s mind numbing work but it’s better than many other “pick and place” style manual labor. At least with painting a bridge the scenery is better although the temperature is more harsh.


Paint is preventative maintenance. It's a lot cheaper in the long run than not painting at all.

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.


"Painting the Forth Bridge" is an expression in these parts describing a never ending task. However, with better pain this is apparently not the case anymore:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forth_Bridge#Maintenance


Another example of continuous painting is the Golden Gate bridge https://www.goldengate.org/bridge/bridge-maintenance/paintin...

Not really - steel boats easily last 100 years. A friend of mine lives in one from around 1940 and the steel is in fine shape. As long as it's properly maintained there's no problem.

Yet, Modern ships have a lifespan of 25 to 30 years before corrosion, metal fatigue and a lack of parts render them uneconomical to operate. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ship_breaking

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.


Giant steel objects are much harder to keep intact, to the point where non iconic objects are easier to replace once than maintain for 100+ years.

What about the Eiffel Tower? Or Blackpool Tower. That proves it can be done.


Those are iconic. The difference between being possible and being cost effective.

Those are both made of iron.

So they're iconic and ironic.

The word is actually "ferrous", but, yeah.

Steel is iron, with a carbon content somewhere in the range of about 0.25% to 2%.

No, steel is an alloy of iron, carbon, and other trace elements. Saying that "Steel is iron" is like saying "Bronze is copper".

It isn't, but that's beside the point, which is that there's little enough difference between iron and steel that the Eiffel and Blackpool towers being made of wrought iron doesn't prevent them demonstrating that large structures engineered in steel are quite possible to maintain given the requisite investment in actually doing the maintenance.

(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.)


I think the skyscrapers in NYC would beg to differ. But there is regular maintenance on those. Which is why this sounds like more like a failure in due diligence than the natural course of affairs.

But if it is obsolete, then that is another matter.


Steel exposed to the weather is an entirely different story from steel inside a structure.

Wouldn't it be infinitely cheaper to replace all the cables/fixtures and simply rebuild it? Or have the funders simply lost interest in it?

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.


> 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.


Wikipedia itself raises more than $120 million per year. I don't think a telescope could attract as much in donations as Wikipedia, but it is interesting to see how high could donations possibly go.

The only reason Wikipedia can do that is because it's at the top of 50% of all Google search results. Constant epic scale exposure that Wikipedia has been able to use to push for donations (and further to build up a routine of it, an understanding of how Wikipedia operates, to millions of people). Realistically Arecibo has nothing like that to leverage. Donating to Wikipedia is a value to action instant feedback process: you land on a nice and helpful Wikipedia page, you derive value, you give some value back; again, Arecibo can't offer that kind of in the moment, click of a mouse, value-donation gratification to large numbers of donors. Arecibo's donor pool is mostly the Paul Allens of the world.

TLAs have lots of money.

Arecibo was in full operation before the cables broke. If you replace all the cables and hardware and reassemble it shouldn't cost anywhere near $80 million cause you're not starting from scratch.

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.


It would be way more expensive then that. You can't just inflation adjust.

Construction has a lot more costs these days - have to take care of the environment, not kill your workers...


Unfortunately, I think the article is saying that the telescope is now at a point where decommissioning it in a controlled manner is the only safe option.

The story states that there is belief that the work itself could trigger another collapse putting those doing the work at risk.

Do you have a list or link to any mega projects you are currently excited about?

Starshade is a crazy concept that could do more for the search for life than any previous approach by allowing us to block out a star to directly view its planets.

https://youtu.be/-jA2ABHBc6Y?t=3652



Three that sound pretty exciting to me are ITER [1], the Extremely Large Telescope [2] and the James Webb Space Telescope. I'm sure there is also more I haven't heard of yet!

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITER

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extremely_Large_Telescope

[3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extremely_Large_Telescope



I didn't know about these two. Thanks for sharing!

James Webb is the one I worry about the most. ITER has a taken a long time, but they're making steady forward progress with it.

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.


I agree. Or even if nothing explodes, I'm worried that during the unfolding something will break or get stuck and, and unlike Hubble it won't be "easily" repairable (if at all). Hopefully this doesn't happen, because it is a once-in-many-decades project.

I'm sad as well. I was lucky to visit the site 2006.

Arecibo has been superseded in terms of raw aperture by FAST, and in terms of angular resolution by the interferometry arrays since 1966 at the latest when the One Mile observatory was doing 23 arcsecond resolution images. I think it's main somewhat unique capability was doing radar measurements of things in our solar system.

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.


I'm too sad today to engage with this, but you're simply wrong about Arecibo "having done all the useful things it could do ages ago, and not finding anything new".

Here, for example, is Arecibo on the cover of Nature, in 2018: [1]. And you might want to look into NANOGrav [2]: you'll be hearing a lot more about it (I promise) in one or two years, depending on publication timelines.

[1] https://twitter.com/nature/status/951423495107481602 [2] http://nanograv.org/


Despite its large instantaneous sensitivity, Arecibo is not really suited for transient work. In the FRB example Arecibo has a factor 22 advantage in collective area and yet trails Parkes by a factor of 14 in number of discovered FRBs: weak evidence of a unique capability.

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.


There is a sea of difference between your initial statement of "having done all the useful things it could do ages ago, and not finding anything new" and your new statement of wanting conclusive proof that Arecibo has "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.


What's your connection to NANOGrav?

Interferometry can simulate the resolution of a dish corresponding to its baseline but not the sensitivity.

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.


Am I wrong but I remember something that it's resolution sucks because it's not parabolic.

May be true, but its real value was has a radar.

The transmission capability is part of the reason Arecibo would be so difficult to fix. The platform is almost 900 tons.

China's FAST telescope was designed without transmit, mostly to save on suspended weight. Its focus cabin is only 30 tons.


It's been a little while since I dabbled in radio astronomy, but arrays like the VLA use interferometry to produce high resolution images. However, the high resolution is only along the directions between pairs of telescopes. Since you don't have telescopes in all directions, there are some directions with low resolution and others with high resolution. (In the technical parlance they talk about "UV-coverage" and filling the UV plane".) This produces patterns in the Fourier domain that look like this: http://www.aoc.nrao.edu/~vlbacald/idx/snap_uv.gif. [1]

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.)

[1]: See this page for those images and more details: http://www.aoc.nrao.edu/~vlbacald/read.shtml


Could this characteristic be mitigated by arranging the telescopes in a random pattern rather than using simple, regular pattern like the VLA follows? That seems like it might be what's going on with the UV coverage diagrams being demonstrated at the bottom of page 3 in this paper about the ATA: https://www.seti.org/sites/default/files/ATA-memo-series/mem...

You can improve UV coverage a bit but removing redundant duplicate baselines. Which is what pseudo-random patterns do. And these are used e.g. by Lofar. But the problem of lacking very small baselines to fill in very large scales on the sky remains. Interferometer are simply not very good for imaging extended objects. And of course the other thing is that you might have less reflective area in total and thus lower sensitivity for dim things.

It isn't a random pattern, but yes.

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. :-(


Hi,

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?

Cheers!


I would add that the one thing arecebo had over fast was a transmit function, a suspended cabin heavy enough to support a radar emitter. If you want to bounce radar off planets, fast wont work.

Correct! Bird lovers would hate to see those birds die, but the LiDar was the facility which allowed high-res atmospheric studies. FAST, or most other telescopes, don't have this capacity, especially with any comparable size (which allows us to amplify the signal when focused).

Truly sad.


Not a radio astronomer (hoping one chimes in), but my understanding is that it’s about sensitivity (what’s the faintest signal it can detect) and resolution (distinguishing signals from points close together in the sky). The Very Large Array has “the resolution of an antenna 36 km (22 miles) across, with the equivalent sensitivity of a dish 130 meters (422 feet) in diameter”[0], i.e. amazing resolution but sensitivity much smaller than the current largest single dish, which is China’s FAST (500 meters in diameter).

[0] http://www.vla.nrao.edu/


I used to work at the VLA as an RF engineering intern. I learned a lot. There is a good technical answer in these comments already, in regards to reception.

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 [0] 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. [1]

[0] https://m-cacm.acm.org/careers/182810-high-def-radar-images-...

[1] https://youtu.be/SUr1z5XeOE0


On this website we can't fail to mention the connection to James Burke's Connections: Arecibo Observatory appears in Episode 3 from 43:50 https://youtu.be/eCp8h9RkaSw?list=PLf02uWXhaGRng_YzH-Ser_VEV... (skip to 47:00 https://youtu.be/eCp8h9RkaSw?list=PLf02uWXhaGRng_YzH-Ser_VEV... for discussion of the obsevatory), including in some nice aerial shots.

>what kind of design is going to replace it?

FAST [0] 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.

[0]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five-hundred-meter_Aperture_Sp...


FAST doesn't have some of the more interesting capabilities of Arecibo (most notably, the ability to perform radar astronomy).

What comes next: Hopefully lunar-based optical & radio telescopes!

Random stupid questions from someone who is not a civil engineer:

(a) Why not replace the cables?

(b) What would they do if the cables on the Golden Gate bridge also corroded like this?


The article suggests that the act of replacing the cables could cause a catastrophic failure. My interpretation of this is that unless one could replace all the cables at exactly the same time (which is impossible), at least one more would fail, which would almost certainly cause the instrument pod to fall, destroying the dish and damaging buildings with flying cables.

judging by other comments, the observatory is obsolete. I believe they regularly paint the cables on the GG bridge in order to protect from corrosion.

Not a radioastronomer, but it seems like it'd be nice to add a dish the back of (some of the) Starlink satellites. To make an even larger array.

SETI at home was always fun back in the day. I always thought it was cool to see data from that telescope.

60 years in a tropical environment, no less. The humidity there cannot be kind to steel.

Bezos should build an updated one there for his legacy!

> What comes next?

The Square Kilometre Array


That the US (as of April 2020) does not take any part in.

[flagged]


So many US astronomers will have trouble getting funding to use it, so it doesn’t replace Arecibo for that group, and a very large number of radio astronomers work at US institutions.

> 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?

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?


It wasn't nonmilitary, it's military use has just come to an end.

In a small sidenote of an absolutely magnificent lecture by Steve Blank, the Secret History of Silicon Valley [0], 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.

[0]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZTC_RxWN_xo (radio telescope talk at 50m30s or so)


Well that is fascinating. I am reading The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

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 Sparrow is an excellent but distributing book.

Personally i couldn't stand it, because it felt like telling a straightforward story out of order was a trick to make that story seem more interesting than it really was. But i encourage everyone to read it and form their own opinion!

Basically everything that has to do with space is tied into the military. I'm sure the Chinese aren't going to the moon just for science.

Same reason the Americans and the Soviets did: national pride.

I'd say it's more "feelings of national inadequacy"

This was a super cool talk, thanks for sharing.

Great video, thanks for sharing!

> After all, why spend money on a telescope when the government can cut the budget to lower taxes a little bit more?

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.


Is it productivity, or is the work to mine new "knowledge coins" just harder now that we've done some of the easier work?

By falling productivity, I simply mean that the same amount of funding results in fewer, less valuable and less useful results. Whether it’s caused by research itself becoming progressively more difficult, or some kind of fundamental dysfunction within science, I cannot accurately determine: I think it’s both at least to some degree. I think it’s reasonable to expect that keeping pace of results requires growth in spending, in general.

That is an excellent question that also strikes to the heart of how we measure "productivity."

The government does not cut the budget. It is ever-growing.

Republicans lower taxes sometimes.

They re-allocate budget from one thing to another.

They don't cut the budget.


It's almost as if this is correlated with the population increase. Almost.

Except growth of the budget outstrips growth of the population, enormously.

Please cut out the sarcasm. Let's be nice to one another. (And if you didn't mean it to be sarcasm, never mind.)


It seems like we should be able to build these things in space.

We can. They would be vastly more expensive than the telescopes we're building on earth, and uneconomical to fix or upgrade.

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.


Makes me sad.

Arecibo played a non-trivial role in my decisions to go to grad school.

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.


And did you ever get a chance to play with it?

If not, what is the coolest thing you've gotten to play with?


Oh Arecibo, how I will miss thee. I had the luck to tour the observatory in the early teens with a physics conference. Someone pulled a few strings and we got the technical tour. It was amazing and full of facts, but two things still stick with me.

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.


That's cool as hell and why in the world are we all building stupid AI advertising platforms today?

If you change "advertising platforms" to the more fundamental "resource producer-resource consumer matching platforms" than it makes a lot of sense.

(Slightly unfair) TLDR: Capitalism and Consumer culture.

When I was 5 years old, I saw a pbs documentary about the Arecibo telescope. During a shot of a huge expanse of the telescope's metal, the narrator said something to the effect of "as one gets closer to the equator the sun's rays are stronger and the metal becomes too hot to touch". This, combined with the fact that I had a globe with a raised ridge around the equator, caused me to assume (for many years) that the equator was literally a metal ring that encircled the entire earth.

That's delightful. The ecology of science education misconceptions is a wild and wonderful thing. My best laugh of yesterday was this page[1] from the Stanford Solar Center, saying "It is a common misconception that the Sun is yellow, or orange or even red."... now look the page header, and at the rest of the site. Gee, I wonder where students, including astronomy graduate students, might come by such misconceptions??? :) Literal lol. And yet, that's still doing better than many a colorful NASA and solar observatory outreach site, that don't even manage that sentence.

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 [2], 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?

[1] http://solar-center.stanford.edu/SID/activities/SunDetermine... [2] https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/16622/need-help-si...


I've noticed there seems to be a constant war over the main image on the Wikipedia page about the Sun.

In 2013 there's no image[1]. In 2014 the Sun is yellow-orange[2]. In 2015 it's white[3]. In 2016 it's briefly orange again[4] before going back to white. At one point it's sort of eye-of-sauron[5]. Finally today there are two images, one white and one yellow-orange. Further down the page it's blue.[6]

[1]https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sun&oldid=5554532...

[2]https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sun&oldid=6246911...

[3]https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sun&oldid=6882191...

[4]https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sun&oldid=7042375...

[5]https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Sun&oldid=6468369...

[6]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sun


Ha, interesting. I wonder if someone's done a site where one can easily scroll back and forth in time, watching WP articles change.

Hmm, one might make a simple MVP radial gradient from a slice of that Sun_white[1] 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.

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/54/Sun_whit...


Forget scrolling, I'd like to see it change as an animation.

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.


I've got a similar anecdote from when I was around the same age. When I first heard about the American Civil War and the idea of the South seceding from the union, I had just seen this cartoon [1] and thought that they literally took a saw through the Mason-Dixon line to physically separate the regions, and the South would just float away.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiTM2HQ0g98&ab_channel=fukTr...


That's a neat story! Here's mine from when I was about that same age.

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!"


I just remember its appearance in “The Arrival” as “el radio”

My bad, I must have remembered this line from Contact because The Arrival is set in Owens Valley

Sad day. I worked in radio astronomy and stayed on site for a week a few years back. Amazing telescope, the scale of it has to be seen to be believed. They have had serious funding issues for some time now, so now that it needs repair, I figured they might retire it. Unfortunate for all the staff that work there, it employed quite a few people. RIP Arecibo.

I would not have guessed the scale. The article says the instrument platform weighs 900 tons, which is amazing to imagine. At first, I wondered if they could use a helicopter to bring it down safely, but it's like two or three 747s on a tight rope.

How about giant airbag and mating structures underneath the gondola, shaped-charge the cables, and then just let the air out to bring it down to the ground.

Just inflating something like that would take some weight off the cables and allow a more controlled and safer process.


The platform itself looks bigger than the instruments, so maybe it’s mostly platform?

This sucks. So instead of attempting to fix it, they're staying on the safe side and just demolishing it instead? Full cable replacement is out of the question due to safety? That doesn't make any sense either. This is clearly a budget issue that seems to have been made by bureaucrats.

RIP El Radar

The Arecibo Observatory is not closing. They're only dismantling that structure. They can continue to conduct science there.

The structure holds the instruments through which they conduct science.

>Ralph Gaume, director of NSF’s astronomy division, said at the briefing the agency wants to preserve other instruments at the site, as well as the visitor and outreach center.

It sounds like the big fancy telescope will stop conducting science but these huge projects tend to attract ancillary projects.


I'm too sad today to engage with the discussion here, but I'll just mention, for those of you who think that Arecibo has either "outlived its usefulness" or been supplanted by FAST in China:

Here's Arecibo on the cover of Nature in 2018: [1]. 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: [2]. 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).

[1] https://twitter.com/nature/status/951423495107481602 [2] http://nanograv.org/


That's too bad; glad I got a chance to visit a couple years ago.

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.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_Kilometre_Array


> 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 was in Puerto Rico for a wedding several years ago and made it an absolute non-negotiable must-visit during that trip. No way was I going to be that close and not go see it. So glad I did. It felt like mecca for science nerds. I bought all the souvenirs I could. So sad to see it go.

Fuuuuuuuck.

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?


I mean, it's location is still surely ideal. But it's clear the construction that's there isn't safe. I wonder if, provided they're able to dismantle the remaining facility without complete collapse, if it'd be reasonable to "rebuild" on the same site.

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.


Is it an ideal location though? From an astrophysics perspective I bet it's ideal, but from a structural perspective it's still a large steel structure in the tropics that's also simultaneously in both a hurricane and earthquake zone, which to me seems closer to a worst case scenario than a perfect spot to build.

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.


I mean the geopolitical status of Puerto Rico is not necessarily better, given that even today PR has terrible power infrastructure and no clear plan to fix it.

Maybe if it was the 51st state instead of a colony, the political will would magically appear?

You have a good point, but we also have many decades' worth of engineering improvements that could likely be used to mitigate some of the risks.

It would seem unlikely in PR given the state of infrastructure there.

The hurricane destroyed a lot of the already failing power and port infrastructure, for instance.

https://www.rollcall.com/2019/11/12/report-puerto-ricos-infr...


Puertorican here who grew up visiting the Observatory!! Became a NASA engineer (at KSC.) It was the dish that made a huge impact on me.

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.


Back in the 1950s the US Government built a lot of space infrastructure in the South (Stennis, Redstone &c) to develop the backwards corners of the nation. There's no political will for that any longer, it seems.

Admitting Puerto Rico as a state, thus enabling Puerto Rico to have representation in congress who could argue for more infra being built there, would likely be critical.

Yep, and removing the Jones Act which causes everything PR imports from the mainland to be dramatically more expensive is a necessary 2nd step too.

We could remove the Jones Act, causing cargo to be carried by ships with lax (affordable) regulation, or we could get a similar cost and regulation result on American ships by adjusting our regulations to worldwide norms.

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.


Unlikely, too much risk PR would be a blue state.

That’s why it will have to be when Dems have both Congress and the executive —- GA run-off is so critical. Since Puerto Rico already passed a referendum on joining the US as a state all it would take is simple majority.

That was far more an artifact of the seniority of certain Southern senators on appropriations committees than any commitment to regional improvement. That seniority was a byproduct of (a) horribly racist voting practices keeping those seats long term in the same hands and (b) no competition.

Yes, tell me all about Richard Shelby (AL). But whatever the reason was, the money did end up in the South and it became less agricultural as a result.

It's kind of crazy how the elimination of pork-barrel stipulations ended up polarizing politics.

The Huntsville area (including Redstone) is booming - there is a lot going on there in terms of space infrastructure. I think Huntsville is on track to surpass Birmingham (the city) as Alabama's largest. Political will is much less important now.

I can't speak to the Stennis Space Center other than to say it needs a new name...


China has similar construction called FAST/Tianyan [1], while Russia runs RATAN-600 [2] since 70s but it differs much from Arcibo and FAST in term of construction.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five-hundred-meter_Aperture_Sp...

[2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RATAN-600


By paying for it? It has been struggling with financing for a long time.

What kind of money to make it running we're talking about? Articles don't seem to directly specify the number.

With half the country against public education and science literacy in general, I don't have much hope for a replacement at this point.

Or maybe use all that money to build a good one on the Moon.

They've seriously struggled to find a few million per year just to keep the thing running and do the bare minimum of maintenance (or perhaps less than the bare minimum). I think they'd be hard pressed to scrounge up the billions of dollars they'd need to put a new one on the moon

all of that money, plus a thousand times more.

Yes, of course it costs more, just as that telescope costs way more than the one I have at home.

Ah well, if we're seeing it that way then I propose we just build it halfway between here and Proxima Centauri.

[flagged]


You missed my point.

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.


Give your own money and/or find someone that will invest in the project.

Anybody got the number to SR Hadden?

Why, yes, it would be exquisitely handy to have two such instruments!

I loved seeing this thing when I visited PR, before the hurricane and all the rest. This makes me very sad :_(.

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).


> So it’s not all surprising it would degrade quickly.

Not surprising and easy to work into maintenance costs.

The problem, like with many things on the island, is actually doing the maintenance.


This is horrible. Arecibo is still crucial in radio astronomy experiments ongoing as of 2019. It should be repaired, until a replacement is built.

As the article explains, it has been deemed to be unsafe to repair. What's probably missing in that sentence is "...within an acceptable budget."

Not sure... even with an infinite budget, you need time to build your repair solutions. It's possible that for no amount of money can you repair it before it suffers complete collapse without doing risky things that may cause loss of life.

Yup, as the classic saying goes "nine women can't make a baby in one month". There's a minimum time for things even without budget constraints.

Speaking with absolutely no expertise in the matter, I would guess it’s on the verge of collapse due to lack of maintenance or fatal design flaw. It’s probably no longer a matter of fixing more like a total rebuild would be required?

The article also says the NSF has been looking to divest since 2006 in favor of other projects and had a signed agreement to transfer operations to UCF. It's not simply a matter of whether or not it's still useful, but whether it's worth the cost relative to other facilities.

Yeah, in the previous story I mentioned[1] NANOGrav, which is on the brink of some really interesting science but relies heavily on Arecibo for their dataset.

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.

[1]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25046378


I loved seeing Arecibo when I last visited PR. It is sad to see it dismantled -- I wonder what plans, if any, there are to replace its capabilities.

FAST is now online, newer and larger.

It seems FAST isn't a complete substitute for Arecibo.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five-hundred-meter_Aperture_Sp...


Whose money are you volunteering to be spent on that?

I'm sure you could trade a handful of Patriot missiles and one or two F-35's to fund it several times over.

Probably cut 10 F35s and build a new one. Of course current politicians won't do anything that is bipartisan and generally forward thinking. Dems only want to spend money on social programs and Republicans only want to spend it on blowing brown people up. It's a sad state.

Quick and probably very inaccurate calculation

Arecibo cost $9.3 million in 1963. This is equal to $79,000,000 now (https://www.in2013dollars.com/us/inflation/1963?amount=93000...).

An F-35 costs about $100 million.

Based on that, I'd be happy to give up a single F-35 to rebuild Arecibo.


And the US is planning to purchase 2500 of those. Because 2400 are clearly not enough.

The scale of how much money the USA spends pointlessly on weapons is almost as mind boggling to comprehend as the size of the galaxy. It's depressing to imagine what we could do otherwise if all this money wasn't wasted, or if it was simply returned to taxpayers.

The defense budget is tiny compared to the US's welfare state programs.

Welfare programs promote the welfare of USA residents, which is a valid use of public funds. The defense budget is almost entirely wasted. We haven't won a war in 75 years. Our various bumbling military misadventures have killed thousands of Americans and millions of other humans. If we spent a tenth of what we spend, both we and humanity in general would be safer, happier, and more prosperous. The Pentagon is never held to account for its myriad failures, so over time it has evolved to do only one thing well: consume vast resources.

Rule of law means we must check the US Constitution for what is "a valid use of public funds". OK...

Well, it looks like war gets the public funds.


It also affords the US a position as the world’s reserve currency which itself is worth trillions of dollars.

I’m not sure the ROI analysis is particularly straightforward, all things considered.


You think that removing 2 F-35s from the budget will significantly alter that calculus?

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 removing 2 F-35s from the budget will significantly alter that calculus?

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?

come on.


I don't know if tiny is the word I'd use. ~3% is smaller than ~5%, yes, but still an absurd amount of money.

The defense budget IS a welfare program.

Corporate welfare. But as Romney says, "corporations are people, my friend".

A couple of SSBNs are all we need to assure national defense. The rest is one big jobs program.

I don’t get the flagging, it’s a very valid question.

I’m sure the people at PR would rather see the money invested on infrastructure with higher impact on their citizens life.


Being from PR I have a lot of friends and follow a big community online.

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.

This sucks.


If $100M was invested in building a new one, much of that money would stay in the PR economy in hiring local labor.So it's not a win-lose scenario -- winning more funding could be a net win for the locals too.

Never said it had 0 impact, just that there’s likely infrastructure with higher impact

I just watch the movie Contact this past weekend. Love that telescope and the movie.

I watch that at least once a year with my wife. It'll feel strange from now on. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself... and for that we need telescopes!

Wonderful movie - one of my all time faves. It's based on Carl Sagan's book of the same name, which is also excellent.

This is the kind of thing I always hope that one of the billionaire nerds will help with. Seems right up Elon Musk's alley.

This is multigenerational national infrastructure. Imagine a volatile nerd like Musk funding Goldstone or CERN. He'll get into a pissing match with someone who knows what he is talking about damn quick (remember the Thai U-boat story) and then refuse to pay further.

Absolutely. If anything, this is the kind of thing which absolutely justifies having a nice, stable, bipartisan revenue stream directly from the tax base (along with, you know, stuff like transportation infrastructure, healthcare, education, etc). These shouldn't be the kinds of things which have to go begging for scraps from the tables of billionaires.

He'll get into a pissing match with someone who knows what he is talking about damn quick

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.


> You're being grossly uncharitable considering what he's already been able to accomplish at SpaceX.

What, creating a rocket less powerful than Saturn V? That was over 60 years ago.


Lots of Saturn Vs landing on boats on your planet?

But yeah, agreed with your larger point, the lack of progress has been nothing short of pathetic. Until recently.


SpaceX was founded 18 years ago, so it's almost a 'generation' old already. Not bad for a 'volatile nerd'. I'm betting it will be around longer than the Arecibo Observatory (the main telescope anyway).

Right, because that worked out so well for Notre Dame last year, eh?

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jul/18/ruins-...


> Seems right up Elon Musk's alley.

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.



Maybe the state could take some of their spare money...

I need less Elon Musk in my life tbh.

Time to add this to the list of "wonders that we could build at some time in the past, but probably not today"?

As soon as I heard a second cable had broken, I knew they would shut it down.

This is really sad news :(

I remember seeing this thing in the 1997 movie Contact:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9DuMK0uo1c


This is truly sad news. How did it come to this? Was proper upkeep and maintenance over the years deemed too expensive? After all, everything decays over time when left alone.

The article suggests it was a combination of hurricanes and earthquakes that led to critical damage.

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.


Is this a symbol of the degradation of human intellectual capability in the 21st century?

> Is this a symbol of the degradation of human intellectual capability in the 21st century?

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.


China built a bigger one called FAST (Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope) at a cost of 1.2 billion USD.

The political leaders of the CCP are all trained engineers and it helps not having to explain your actions to fickle voters.


> The political leaders of the CCP are all trained engineers

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.

https://www.scmp.com/news/china/policies-politics/article/21...


You have to also consider they don't have voters.

It turns out the free market is extremely good at innovation, but horrible for maintenance or long lived projects - as soon as something is not deemed "profitable" any more, it gets shut down. No matter how useful it is for literally millions of people (Google Reader comes to a mind).

There's also demand for the things that shouldn't need to be profitable, to be profitable. I saw a news article like a week ago making a HUGE STINK about how a bridge was "losing tons of money" when they looked at the bridge toll vs the expenses. A.. publicly owned bridge, of course! And they made it sound scandalous.

Like seriously. What? It's like people talking about how unprofitable public transit is.....

That's not really the point, is it?


In a way, it's a mirror to the lowest common denominator of human nature. As should be expected if you think about it. A lot of our instincts don't scale well, e.g. eating too much sugar and fat when it's in abundance, because it used to be evolutionarily advantageous. So do we throw our hands up and say that's inevitable, or try to incentivize our better selves?

“Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance” — Kurt Vonnegut, Hocus Pocus


Yet government space travel is dead, and private space travel (SpaceX) is booming. So there's that. Just because it doesn't happen on your timeline doesn't mean private is inferior to government. It means private is waiting for it to be financially feasible. Which if the government did things that way, we wouldn't be $136 trillion dollars in debt.

Private space travel funded by government contracts.

> Private space travel funded by government contracts.

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).


The Saturn V wasn't called The Boeing Falcon, and Von Braun didn't work for Boeing.

One could easily imagine the incentive for private initiative in the field of space travel.

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.


>There was a time when those ideas weren't so dominant,

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.


> 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.

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.


> "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.


>"You mean they actually vote for the lizards?" >"Oh yes," said Ford with a shrug, "of course." >"But," said Arthur, going for the big one again, "why?" >"Because if they didn't vote for a lizard," said Ford, "the >wrong lizard might get in. Got any gin?"

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?


People in the streets are angry because the media is telling them to be angry.

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. [0]

[0] https://wtfhappenedin1971.com/


> less government

It's enough to look at the current holocaust in the Dakotas to understand the true value of that "philosophy".


If government wasn't all up in all sorts of stupid things (or was all up in them to a lesser degree) people wouldn't be apprehensive about it being involved in the kinds of things government needs to be involved in, like public health and funding research that has no profit use.

As someone else wrote in this thread, US funding of these types of projects has gone up not down.

This is simply a decision on which kind of projects to fund not a reduction in science as a whole.


The suggestion that you make here is that when the telescope was funded in the 1950s, our national political leadership class identified itself less strongly as a capitalist free-market nation than it does today.

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.


> The suggestion that you make here is that when the telescope was funded in the 1950s, our national leadership identified itself less strongly as a capitalist free-market nation than it does today.

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.


Our intellectual capability is not degraded; rather, it's funneled into adtech, porn, social media click optimization, and entertainment. Critical distinction.

Sounds like degradation to me.

Ah, yes, all those smart people making a Brave New World, while that world literally burns is totally not the same as degrading our intellectual capacity.

Tbf China has one that's half a kilometer wide, so there's still hope for progress :)

http://www.hexapolis.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Worlds-L...


The China one doesn't have the ability to transmit, only receive.

They take the Trisolarans seriously.

No, it's a reflection of the state of US infrastructure.

It's a reflection of the damage caused by a Category 5 hurricane, and subsequent tropical storm.

Part of "infrastructure" is the capability and willingness to deal with the aftermath of severe weather events.

AKA "maintenance."

Which is also a symbol of the degradation of human intellectual capability in the 21st century. Certainly the ability to focus it toward advancing the understanding of the natural world.

> Which is also a symbol of the degradation of human intellectual capability in the 21st century.

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.


No, the Chinese just created the FAST telescope.

Nothing lasts forever and things require ever more upkeep costs as they get older.

It’s yet another symbol that we waste resources. Military and pork spending far outweigh the costs of things that could instead improve out quality of life (health) and the understanding of our universe.

It’s outdated technology. We are still spending hundreds of billions on basic science, including space science.

Not really since the installation has been mostly a tourist destination for years. This happens to be a piece of scientific infrastructure that a lot of people recognize from movies, video games, etc but it’s not actually very important.

No, we already have the FAST telescope. It is more a degradation of US infrastructure.

No.

You'd have to be very blinkered about progress elsewhere to think that, notice how there are multiple apparently good covid vaccines already?


No, nor is it a pigeon.

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