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Arecibo Observatory Collapsed (space.com)
776 points by BrentOzar 51 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 309 comments

I've wondered about the exact time of the collapse.

Apparently there is a seismic observatory only tens of meters away from the telescope dish. The station code is AOPR [0].

After retrieving the mseed data from the web API using curl, and installing obspy from pip, I could plot the events. This is the result: [1]. You can see two "events". One at Nov 30, 23:12 UTC, and a second, larger one at Dec 1st, 11:52 UTC. Upon closer inspection, the first event is actually multiple smaller ones, not sure if they are related to the collapse at all. The second event is clearly one discrete thing though. The image was uploaded to twitter at 11:56 UTC, so minutes within the collapse being recorded on the seismograph. You can still see the dust in the air.

Pretty cool that all this data is out there, in the open, just a curl request away.

[0]: https://www.fdsn.org/networks/detail/PR/

[1]: Note on some of the screenshots I've preprocessed the data with a lowpass filter st.filter("lowpass", freq=0.1, corners=2) to make it look nicer, while in others I haven't. I'm just an interested person, not doing this on a scientific level. https://imgur.com/a/FjrbWWa

Interesting! You should write this up. Your comment has more content than most Medium articles that I’ve seen.

Thanks! I mainly just googled together this stuff in a matter of 1-2 hours. So it was an afternoon project :). But maybe I'll write it into a nice format. It wasn't trivial because the WWW interfaces only show earthquakes but this event was likely only registered by one station and had too low magnitude to be registered by others, and was thus filtered out.

According to this Scott Manley video there was an earthquake in the Dominican Republic that may have been responsible for the break. Timing matches up. Trying to find his source


In the video he shows a screenshot from facebook while mentioning the earthquake. I dug it up, seems to be this post: https://www.facebook.com/redsismicadepuertorico/photos/a.101...

> The Puerto Rico Seismic Network (PRSN) is saddened to learn about the collapse at the Arecibo Radiotelescope Observatory this morning of December 1st, 2020. PRSN’s seismic station AOPR, located within the premises of the observatory, detected the timing of the failure. This seismic station has been a long collaboration between PRSN and the Arecibo Observatory. Here we publish the seismic record of AOPR at the time of collapse, which coincidentally occurred during the passage of seismic waves through Puerto Rico from a Dominican Republic earthquake of M4.0 that occurred at 07:51 AM AST. The figure below shows 07:52:42 AM AST (11:52:42 UTC) as the exact time of collapse at the AOPR seismic station, denoted by a sharp impulsive signal, right after the arrival of the S wave of the earthquake. It is a sad day for Science and a tragedy to lose such an important, iconic, valuable, and unique scientific instrument and allowed so many scientific advances and discoveries to humanity.

That facebook post is waaaay better than what I as a layman was able to come up in the post above. We made both posts at the same time though, so I couldn't know any better.

Also thanks for posting the link to the video, it's precisely the kind of breakdown I like :).

Very cool, that matches it. According to Wolfram Alpha, 7:55 a.m. Atlantic Standard Time is 11:55 UTC.

There is a small difference of 3 minutes, but the NSF wording has an "approximately". I guess their priority was to get an initial report out and not precisely determine when it collapsed. I think that a final report on the incident will contain the 12:52 figure instead of the 12:55 one.

Anyways, that's just splitting hairs. Glad that nobody got hurt. This incident is obviously a tragedy.

Do you happen to know of some sources where I can find more API access to data and information like this? I'd love to be able to pull seismic data, weather data, ambient light data (as examples) or any other kind of data from all over the world just for fun.

The seismic data I downloaded using the FDSN web API. The link is on the page I linked in the "Data Access" section: https://www.fdsn.org/networks/detail/PR/

> FDSN Web Services provide a common data access API for seismic data.

For weather data, I found this page by googling:


Generally I think it's better to get it from commercial vendors, because a lot of weather stations/data are only available commercially.

The 23:12 event could have been a cable failure which lead to the eventual collapse at 11:52.

Any hints on finding seismic data from elsewhere in the world? There was a small event in South America yesterday I'd love to hit with data sciency stuff.

Raspberry Shake (citizen science seismometer network) may be interesting to you. I haven't used it myself, so I'm not sure if it's real time: https://raspberryshake.org/data-center/

Whoa, cool. Could you make a .wav file or something so we can hear it?

Stupid question: Why do they decommission it instead of fixing it? It seems that it would be more work to build a new one.

Reason 1: because they were afraid of it failing catastrophically just like what happened this morning. One person was on site (director of telescope operations Angel), but imagine what would have happened if a work crew was up in the structure working on cables during such a failure.

Reason 2: They are not going to build a new one. NSF has tried to get rid of AO for a long time now.

I'd like to know more about why "NSF has tried to get rid of AO for a long time now." Anybody knows something interesting and specific? What I was able to find was the Washington Post 2007 article, where it's mentioned that:

"states with major observatories, such as New Mexico and West Virginia, have senators famous for their power over purse strings, some of whom are already gearing up to fight proposed cuts. By contrast, Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, has no senators. And its representative in the House" "does not have a vote."

and "The cash crunch stems from a "senior review" completed last November at NSF." and

""The ambitions of the astronomy community for new things was far outstripping the capacity of the federal budget to cover them," said Wayne van Citters, NSF's astronomy division director, who organized the independent review"


Re: Reason 1

Well sure, but a hypothetical new structure is also going to require cables, just hopefully a more reliable construction. So why not keep the dish for now, and consider rebuilding the cables in a more modern fashion, and with redundant cables?

The cables were (originally) redundant. There are actually replacement cables on the way from Germany right now. But after the one main cable failed earlier this year they noticed that all cables are MUCH weaker than previously thought. So there was (even before the collapse) no way of replacing the existing cables with the replacements. And yes that probably implies that they should have swapped out all cables years ago. But they didn't have the funding.

> no way of replacing

How did they build the cables in the first place? Couldn't they just snip the cables with a helicopter or unmanned drone with a flying chopsaw and string new ones as if it was a brand new construction?

Basically I'm not understanding how it is impossible to replace something but it is evidently possible to build that something.

Being unable to fix something you’re able to build isn’t unusual to anyone who has built a large and complicated structure. They had two different engineering firms look at it, and neither of them saw a safe path forward. It’s possible that repairing it was physically possible, but would have put people in harms way while they were, for example, detaching cables on an already unstable structure.

Also this video can help realize the amazing scale of this thing: https://youtube.com/watch?feature=emb_title&v=QZAWqk-wrzc

This was basically a whole building suspended into the air. Science or magic? Amazing engineering to be sure (but maybe not built with maintenance and security in mind)

Are there not unmanned solutions to the problem? Drones with flying abrasive chopsaws? Literally strap a Dewalt circular saw onto a big enough drone with the power button taped down? Use a drone to attach a dynamite to the cable? It seems weird to me that the government can figure out how to remotely bomb a town but can't figure out how to remotely do a little snippy snip snip on a cable.

Flying buzzsaws seems unlikely to work, but I don't think snipping the old cables would even be the hard[est] part. Installing new cables would almost certainly require workers to be present on the center platform, and it obviously wasn't safe for anybody to be there.

The dish is nothing but aluminum sheeting with holes in it. The vast majority of the cost and complexity are in the instrument cluster and the towers. There's not much of value left to repair at this point.

As for replacing cables, anyone who has rebuilt a RAID array will tell you that hardware is most likely to fail when it's under stress, like when you have workers in the towers setting the footings for the new ultra-safe cables. It's not just dangerous because they don't know when it'll give way, it's dangerous because messing with it was likely to trigger a collapse like what we just saw.

The location itself, both in terms of terrain and extant infrastructure and personnel also has value. Without the dish to support it, that's also a writeoff.

Still likely not a compelling case for rebuilding, however.

Why would there workers in the towers?

I assumed that in 2020 we have unmanned solutions to taking something down, and then rebuilding would be done with proper engineering as if it were a new radio telescope but the dish is already built for you.

Your assumption is off by a few decades.

No robot currently exists that can replace even a tiny fraction of the tasks a 16 year old teenager with a hard-hat and steel toed boots can do at a construction site.

Think of a house of cards. Now think of being required to replace a middle layer without disturbing the cards above it. Also, each card weighs forty tons and, on falling, will kill some or all of the people working on the repair job and take out enough structure to make the whole thing a writeoff anyway.

The thing that was hanging suspended above the dish was weighing 900 tons. I don't know how it could be that heavy (it's probably pretty big), but that sounds too heavy for any helicopter or drone to lift - even if it only had to hold 1/100th of the weight of it while the cable was being replaced.

Interesting, I read 300 tons (which is already a lot!)

The answer is that they almost certainly built it with almost nothing hanging in the center, and without the dish below it. Once the basic platform was in place, then they hoisted up all of the components to build out the 900 ton platform (actually, that took years and years as equipment was added to upgrade it).

So, in essence, doing a replacement of all of the cables would need to start by essentially disassembling the thing completely and then rebuilding it.

    Basically I'm not understanding how it is 
    impossible to replace something but it is 
    evidently possible to build that something. 
Ah, you are fortunate. I see you've never worked on a large software project with lots of technical debt. =)

Not stupid. Also wondering this. Maybe it would be cheaper to use more efficient materials and engineering as well as perform another geo survey.

"Too big to fail" apparently doesn't apply for science projects.

To put this in perspective, at the cost of a single F-35A, Arecibo could be running for ~7y with funding at 2011 levels.

The problem (partly) is that the F-35 program puts money into 307 congressional districts in 45 states [1]. These insanely expensive defense projects are wealth transfer programs that make contractors like Lockheed and their many sub-contractors rich, and also create jobs in these communities.

That a fighter plane may or may not come out the other end is only nominally important, the key is to spend the money. The more money spent, the more people get work. That keeps people elected.

Arecibo had 120 FTE employees, mostly in Puerto Rico. Politically speaking that makes it inconsequential.

If you want different outcomes, then the political incentives need to be fundamentally re-aligned.

[1] https://harpers.org/archive/2019/06/the-pentagon-syndrome/

The FTE employee-count alone underestimates the impact of national-scale science infrastructure. naic.edu is down right now (I suspect they're busy at the moment), but their data is used by tens to hundreds of institutions, each partially employing faculty, postdocs, and students.

For agencies like NSF, the science is sometimes almost secondary. What matters perhaps the most is that qualified and capable students continue to emerge from, and sustain, America's scientific institutions.

Arecibo has been fighting for its fiscal life since I was an undergraduate in the early 2000s. I couldn't understand then why anyone would want to cut funding to it, as the facility is unique and capable. As a more-mature scientist, I now understand that older instruments sometimes must sadly make way for new endeavors.

This collapse is a powerful moment for US radio astronomy. Will the community redirect the funds to promising new instruments, buck up and rebuild an upgraded Arecibo, or use the fleeting prominence of the moment find a way to grow the funding pie and do both?

It is embarrassing for the planet's leading scientific nation to have China's larger modern copy of Arecibo (FAST) come on-line in 2016 and our venerable telescope collapse without replacement in 2020. We owe it to ourselves to do better than this.

I agree that the impact of Arecibo and these kinds of installations is actually very outsized relative to the number of FTE employees who directly work on it. The larger scientific community are the ones who booked time on the telescope after all.

My point is that politically none of that matters. No one is getting elected because people got to book telescope time for their research. The incentives are not correctly aligned to support research and science.

To go back to the F-35 comparison: the NSF has annual funding of $8.3 billion. The F-35 program is projected to cost $21.7 billion per year through its lifespan (2001-2070). I bet it winds up even higher than that, because nothing has yet changed to prevent endless overruns.

So the F-35 makes jobs and maybe a little bit of interesting work gets done as a result of the project despite itself. We as a society could buy so much more than yet another war machine (and maybe not even a useful one) with that money and effort. What could NSF do with another $13 billion every year?

> So the F-35 makes jobs...

I wonder about that. It's been a while since I studied, but the phrase "deadweight loss" looms large in what I remember of the one economics class I took in college. So I wouldn't be surprised if the program is actually a net negative for job creation.

Only that doesn't matter, either, because the point is not to create more jobs; the point is to influence job creation in a way that benefits the people who hold the purse strings. If the cost of doing so outweighs the benefits, that's inconsequential. Those costs are so widely dispersed as to be invisible, immeasurable, and difficult to discuss except on theoretical grounds. They'll never be as compelling as a staged photograph of a senator in a suit and a hard hat, sticking a shovel in the ground.

I haven't really looked into it all beyond a superficial level, but I certainly think that things like the F-35 program are a net negative to society when viewed at a distance.

As another example, I wonder if Wisconsin's sweetheart deal with Foxconn actually had a negative impact on employment. Clearly Foxconn's promised jobs never materialized, but the threat of them coming to town to spend big money may have had a chilling effect on existing or prospective new employers in the area.

Back to the F-35 program, the jobs it creates may be deadweight, deadend careers that don't produce real value. And then you can't just have these people unemployed and starving, so I guess we'll need an F-35+1 program for them and their descendents. And so on forever, until we break this cycle.

Versus something else that you could buy with the same money that has a future and does create real value (like say, solar panels?). But you're right, its just about the perception of jobs and that photo op.

I have family that lives in the area where the Foxconn plant was set up. The rumor, which I'm sure will never be publicly substantiated, was that there have been businesses that decided to steer clear of or pull out of Wisconsin over concerns about the economic blowback from state policies including (but not limited to) the Foxconn boondoggle. Including some that offered higher quality (if not as news-worthy, since they didn't count as "tech") jobs than the ones Foxconn would have created under even the rosiest of projections.

> Back to the F-35 program, the jobs it creates may be deadweight, deadend careers that don't produce real value. And then you can't just have these people unemployed and starving, so I guess we'll need an F-35+1 program for them and their descendents. And so on forever, until we break this cycle.

This is a big part of the problem. If you give the F-35 program $1 billion and you give the NSF $1 billion dollars, the F-35 program is going to directly generate more jobs. They pay people less, and they need more unskilled labor. The NSF needs very little unskilled labor, relatively speaking. Scientists are expensive. Machinery for science is crazy expensive (although so are a lot of F-35 components). Machinery for science also often involves buying foreign parts, such as the replacement cables for Arecibo that were coming from Germany.

One way for the NSF to address that is by requiring parts to be US made like the DoD does. It will increase the price, and it will often result in less effective parts (as it often does for the DoD), but you can make an easier argument that cutting NSF funding will take away jobs. I don't know if that's a net win or not, but it would probably get them more funding.

It's also to maintain the capability. You need to keep people continuously employed in that area or else you run a high risk of losing the ability to field new aircraft.

It is not so different from subsidising farming (similar pros and cons) to ensure food security.

There is a lot going on in the supply chain that you need to maintain at a baseline level if you ever expect to have to fight.

From a very macro level whatever airframes get shipped may matter less than maintaining all the specialised knowledge and suppliers that you need to produce them. "Looking after the machine that makes the machine".

Unless the actual physical F35 planes end up delivering some kind of value to their purchasers (let's face it, they basically won't), funding the F35 is a lot like breaking Bastiat's window. It's a case of the seen vs the unseen, which is why so few are equipped to complain about it

It’s a game-theoretic problem that has a name:

Concentrated benefits and diffused costs.

Note that the NSF isn't the only agency funding science in the US. For example, the NIH spends nearly all of its $40 billion annual budget funding scientific research.

However, I think this does speak to your earlier point about politics. It's easier to get people on board with funding "health" (since everyone cares about their own health) than it is for "science"

> China's larger modern copy of Arecibo (FAST) come on-line in 2016

China's is not really a copy. It does not have transmit capability. What is really missing now in US, and international science is asteroid radar imaging and ranging.

Yeah. And the transmitter piece has been broken since Maria hit, so we've already gone quite some time without that capability.

I think fast is also limited to a much lower frequency than Arecibo due to trading off pointability vs surface consistency-- which it needs in part because its so much further from the equator.

That is not good. Was Arecibo the best instrument for early detection of asteroids? What are we using now?

Now, we use optical scanning telescopes with a wide field of view, and image differencing.

Optical instruments have a wide field of view and don't have the inherent SNR problems that radar does. (I.e., using the Sun to illuminate objects is more efficient than doing it yourself.)

As a side-effect, there are all kinds of other transient sources that these scanning telescopes pick up, like supernovae, relativistic jets from AGNs ("blazars"), exotic variable stars, etc. (http://crts.caltech.edu) It's a zoo out there!

Radar does play a role in orbit characterization, and recovery of object geometry, once the NEO gets close enough. But you can get orbits through optical techniques too.

The NASA center for near-Earth objects (NEOs) is: https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/about/search_program.html

NEO close approaches to Earth, tabulated: https://cneos.jpl.nasa.gov/ca/. There was a really close one today, actually (a 5-meter object at 0.13 lunar distances).

For more about the role of planetary radar in NEOs, search for "radar" in this FAQ: https://www.nasa.gov/planetarydefense/faq

I'd like to think that the near future will allow large space-based solutions in place of Earth-based and increasingly radiowave-polluted ones.

A far-side moon solution's probably still quite a way off, but I wonder if some sort of lagrangian or outward-facing satellites in geosynchronous orbit might work. I'm imagining satellites with large Earth-facing shields, sort of like a radiowave version of the sunshield on the James Webb Telescope. I'm probably missing some really obvious Physics 101-level reason that wouldn't work, but a girl can dream.

Yours is a convincing argument. How do we get better optics on this for the public at large, so as to better present arguments for funding science?

It never, ever, hurts to write to your federal representative and senators. They and their staffers do listen and their votes directly determine the funding and oversight for NSF, NASA, and DOE.

I don't have great advice for direct advocacy (A billboard that says, "America's scientific infrastructure is collapsing -- fund science now!"?). At the grassroots level, providing opportunities for people to engage directly with science -- outreach, lab tours, science field trips, etc. help people to learn to understand the world around them, engage with science, see the infrastructure, and take ownership.

Every time I have given a lab tour, I thank everyone who attends for underwriting the science with their tax dollars. Essentially all fundamental research in the US is funded by you, the taxpayer. We are really, really grateful for the opportunity to learn something new about nature and share it with everyone. Thank you.

Not to digress too far but the general public at large won't even push to get funding for their own direct interests (e.g. COVID related stimulus right now). I don't know how we expect to get the general public to push for science.

Much of our society runs on pure momentum and very few people have the power to slightly shift the direction of that momentum.

One of the other large radio astronomy observatories in Greenback is also hurting for funding from what I understand. I've worked on a few collaborative research efforts utilizing the data and working with the observatory and the picture painted doesn't look promising there either. That may have changed more recently given the state of Arecibo.

Make a vocal, active, involved, interest group?

Hacker News, /. for Science?

Look - not everything is solved by collective action, nor everything solved by individual action.

Your strategy is determined by your terrain. The terrain here is a competitive field for human attention. Arecibo has nothing against dying puppies.

The beauty of the stars, the ambition of man? That has some scope.

But its still easier to find a few people who will regularly email and talk to your elected representatives, create networks that will work this out.

There MUST be some other people who want to contribute to this, and they may have resources other than cash to pool.

If it works for defense projects... Calculate how many jobs it takes to build a thing. Keep building things. Advertise job numbers?

It would be nice to fix the societal issue that ties up people's self-worth, status and sheer survival with their job, but that's a much bigger ask. Now you're into things like universal healthcare, UBI, mental health, education, etc. Still, we should work towards improvements on all fronts.

I think that in today's world, if you want science to get funded like defense projects, you'll have to embrace all of the grossness of defense projects. Lobbyists, sub-contractors, patriotic jingoism, fear, etc. Look at how we got to the moon.

Far too late for me to edit, but why was this downvoted? It’s a pretty plain question.

The F-35 is an example of the broken window parable[1] writ large. Sure it created a bunch of jobs, but that same money could have created a similar number of jobs while accomplishing something useful. I often wonder what the eventual consequences of this kind of resource misallocation will be for the US.

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

It's not only about creating jobs or keeping jobs, it's about keeping a current capability of the US industrial complex running. And if you stop it it's like a bakeries oven, when you want to turn it on again it will not be ready in to produce in time for when you need it.

That's another side to projects like the F-35 that people on HN usually don't pay attention to. This programs not only "create" those jobs but they also keep the infrastructure and "machine" running that can design and build this very powerful weapons. The US had air superiority because of its technology for a while and if all that infrastructure and people just start doing something else, in like 5/10 years then the capacity to build this machines is dead, and it would take 10/15 years to get it back up and running.

And another reasons is that dollar is a world-wide reserves currency. This arrangement essentially creates unlimited credit for US. To maintain this status carriers, planes and other weapons are required.

While everyone in US benefits from this, (mostly) liberals disingenuously “protest”. You know, if you really care about this issue, then blue-collar protection policies, like some recent president tried, would go a long way to lift lower middle class and paradoxically reduce a need to project force world-wide all the time.

Trump is pro working class? That's a new one.

Well, many influential economists don't believe in the broken windows fallacy, or that it applies here. Joseph Stiglitz has said that he was in favor of literally paying people to dig holes then fill them back up as a form of fiscal stimulus.

The original statement of this idea is from John Maynard Keynes in his General Theory, and turns out to run

> If the Treasury were to fill old bottles with banknotes, bury them at suitable depths in disused coal mines which are then filled up to the surface with town rubbish, and leave it to private enterprise on well tried principles of Laissez Faire to dig the notes up again (the right to do so being obtained, of course, by tendering for leases of the note-bearing territory), there need be no more unemployment and, with the help of the repercussions, the real income of the community, and its capital wealth also, would probably become a good deal greater than it actually is. It would, indeed, be more sensible to build houses and the like; but if there are political and practical difficulties in the way of this, the above would be better than nothing.

Actually we may already be paying them, only the holes aren't literal. The phenomenon also has a name: Bullshit Jobs [1].

How about paying people for 4 years to get a college degree on whatever subject they like, instead of having them grinding on a bullshit job?

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

I've begun imagining that for Defense spending, government money that's spent in a State must have come from that State's federal income taxes.

I'm exhausted seeing data that indicates that states like mine put in more money than they get from the Federal government, and watching people from states that receive more than they put in talk about welfare state, wealth redistribution, etc.

No state pays a cent to another state or to the federal government. It is residents of each state that pay federal taxes, which the federal government in turn uses to provide funding and services to states and individuals.

The Rockefeller Institute data (https://rockinst.org/issue-areas/fiscal-analysis/balance-of-...) shows that it's not so much "blue states" as frequently claimed, but taxpayers of four very wealthy Northeast states (the Tri-State area plus Massachusetts) that account for the vast bulk of citizens paying more than they receive from the federal government. After them come CO, NE, UT, and MN, of which half voted for Hillary/Biden and half for Trump. All other states, including CA, are net beneficiaries of the taxpayers in the top eight (and, again, really, it's the top four).

The 10 states at the bottom of the Rockefeller report's per capita list—that is, the states that benefit from the most federal spending per person compared to how much each person pays in federal taxes—are

Hillary/Biden-voting states: VA, NM, MD, HI, 1/2 of ME

Trump-voting states: KY, AK, AL, WV, MS, 1/2 of ME

> The Rockefeller Institute data (https://rockinst.org/issue-areas/fiscal-analysis/balance-of-...) shows that it's not so much "blue states" as frequently claimed, but taxpayers of four very wealthy Northeast states (the Tri-State area plus Massachusetts) that account for the vast bulk of citizens paying more than they receive from the federal government.

Yeaaah… no. It only shows that under the default of 2018 BOP.

If you select the last primary tab and look at the 4 years tally, you will see a picture rather more inline with the "folk knowledge", including that while Californians have had a BOP just shy of positive from 2017, their negative BOP in 2015 and 2016 puts them rather into the negative for the 4 years period. Less so than the tri-state or Colorado, but the picture you're painting is at best misleading.

Yes, thank you for explicitly phrasing the problem the way I should have.

Cato has different numbers than Rockefeller.


I've lived in multiple blue states, and they're all "losers" by this definition.

Note also that VA and MD are in this category for very different reasons than KY, AL and WV. Virginia and Maryland are extensions of the Washington, DC government complex (the Pentagon is in Virginia). A large portion of the Federal spending that goes to these states is direct expenditure (salaries, rents, purchasing) for goods and services, while for WV it's much more biased towards entitlement spending (social security, disability, Medicaid, Medicare).

Yeah, 100% agree, and I wish they'd do it for everything.

My state is in the same boat, and I don't mind the taxes, but if the states getting it are going to whine about it, I don't want to force them to take it...

Are you saying that its unfair that money is being taken from you(r state) and being spent on people you don't believe deserve it?

I'm saying that I think there are programs that are good and beneficial, and others call them "evil, wealth redistribution." Well, if that's the majority view in a state, and that state also takes in more Federal dollars than its residents puts in, then maybe for Defense spending they shouldn't be able to take money from another state. They can self-fund it. And if they can't maybe it makes more sense that the jobs that come from Defense spending should go to a state whose residents are willing and able to pay for it.

Yeah but you don't get a say. Only all of us as a collective gets a say. That's in the fundamental nature of taxation.

My alcoholic racist uncle who beats his family receives welfare check for his disability. I am clearly paying into the system and he hates me extra for being an in interracial marriage. I don't like to have my money go towards him, but guess what?

Same here. You don't like that your money is being spent on people against your wishes? You just discovered the true nature of taxation.

> You don't like that your money is being spent on people against your wishes?

No, I'm fine with it. But there are entire states run by dinks who HATE IT, and yet they take it, cursing me and people like me all the while.

I think it's possible we could trick them into agreeing to laws or even a Constitutional Amendment which would prevent them from benefiting from a system they say they hate.

I honestly think that in principle it would be easy.

"Should wealth be redistributed from one state to another?" "No!" "Wow, that was way easier than I thought."

I wish we could just simply hand the money over and skip the part where we create the demand for eternal wars and the killing and maiming of millions of people.

Better yet, don't take the money in the first place. Let people keep more of their legitimate earnings.

The wind gently whispers: socialism.

More like a UBI. Or extended social security.

Socialism's more about the community owning and managing the means of production, and less about just giving people money. You could make a good case that the F-35 program, with all its bloat and cost overruns and inefficient distribution of funds by congressional district, is typical of a socialist jobs program -- granted, the F-35 also has a layer of capitalist shareholders parasitically skimming off the top, but if that were removed, the political pressures that result in the inefficiencies would remain.

The F-35 program is indeed a lot like socialism. And I think the layer of skim off the top is well represented in centrally planned economies like the Soviet Union. It was taken by well placed government ministers rather than business oligarchs.

My comment was intended to be more tongue-in-cheek. People fear socialism, but capitalism is not the answer to all of the world's problems.

People have basic needs: safety, sustenance, shelter, self-determination. They have higher level needs too, and we aren't living in a post-scarcity society yet, but we have the resources to meet these basic needs for at least 328 million people.

I think it's high time for Puerto Rico to become a US state. Puerto Rico has twice the population of the two Dakotas combined and the only way they'll receive more-equitable treatment is if they become a state. I think the will is there locally but there has been resistance from established political factions in the US who fear a place that might tip the balance of power one way or the other.

I agree with you, and I'll go a step further. The US should not have any colonial territories or federal districts where US citizens live who have second-class rights compared to citizens of the 50 states.

That means DC, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa (collectively 3.8 million US citizens) should all be made states.

There are undoubtedly lots of issues and hiccups with implementing that, but fundamentally I think that having classes of citizens with abridged rights is wrong.

I'll go even further: find a way to grant them all the rights of citizenship (representation for their taxation) and let them decide for themselves on statehood. If there's any downside (I honestly don't know, maybe there is?), those people should be given the choice to determine their course of action for themselves.

But I agree completely, having people who pay taxes and can't access all the machinery of government they fund is criminal. (This also includes disenfranchised felons, but especially disenfranchised ex-felons.)

I think we're maxed out on this thread for who to enfranchise, which is good!

I believe one of the big downsides for citizens of Puerto Rico that has caused issues with the push for statehood is that they don't currently pay federal income tax. So it isn't exactly a taxation-without-representation situation, but they are obviously at the mercy of the US in many ways and don't have access to all of the levers of power that are available to others.

Witness the suffering at our delay in suspending the Jones Act (requiring two days of debate) during the Hurricane Maria relief campaign.

I doubt that Puerto Rico's lot would fundamentally change if they were a separate country though, they would still be largely at the mercy of their main trading partner and dominant regional power (the US).

I was also thinking of felons in my earlier comment, but it didn't quite fit my narrative. I don't find the rationale that they would just vote for there to be no laws particularly compelling.

PR residents are actively against the idea mainly because they don't pay fed taxes. only reason democrats are for the idea is because they believe it'll give them another two reliable seats in the senate.

PR residents voted in favor of statehood in a referendum[0] in the most recent election cycle. 52.34% voted in favor, based on a turnout of 52%.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2020_Puerto_Rican_status_refer...

well that's new.... I was there back in 2017 and everyone I spoke to was very against it, and I remember when I looked up the stats they also showed the majority weren't for it. Still looks like it's a close issue, statehood is a big deal and affects everyone dramatically, kinda feel like it should have overwhelming support, not 51% of 52% of ppl... that's actually only 26% of eligible voters voting for it.

Would you believe, almost exactly the same proportion of the U.S. electorate that voted for Donald Trump in 2016?

What’s the relevance of that stat?

What? He got 46%.


> Puerto Rico is a US territory and not a state, so its residents don’t pay federal income tax unless they work for the US government. Even so, workers there pay the majority of federal taxes that Americans on the mainland pay — payroll taxes, social security taxes, business taxes, gift taxes, estate taxes and so on.


> In 2017, Puerto Rico had a median household income of $19,775 — the lowest of any state or territory in the United States.


> PR residents are actively against the idea mainly because they don't pay fed taxes.

They do. They don't pay income tax which with their low incomes is marginal anyway.

Your argument basically boils down to: well they do pay some tax so they can pay more anyways... not a great argument.

They recently voted for statehood in a plebescite. I believe the official GOP platform does actually support statehood, but I'm of the view that GOP politicians and voters don't actually know what their platform is beyond revanchism

Obviously, they will official support it for cosmetic purposes of promoting “democracy”. In practice, however, they know it will cause them to lose power, so they won’t vote for it.

Same reason Washington DC residents don’t have representation in the Senate. Or why the popular vote does not matter for the president.

Washington DC isn't a state because it was literally created to not be a state.

If they want to give DC residents voting rights they should make it impossible to be a DC resident and instead anyone who lives within DC should vote as part of the state the land was taken from for federal elections.

That solves everyone's problems (well aside from the democrats who are trying to get another 2 seats in the senate).

Local issues should still be decided at the federal level because that's the whole reason it exists, so a state can't take the seat of fed gov hostage as happened in 1783 in philly.

If you don't want DC to be controlled by the fed then it should be swallowed by maryland or virginia. Making a single city a state unto itself doesn't make any sense unless you're specifically trying to make political hay.

DC has nearly the same amount of people as North Dakota.

Having two Dakotas doesn't make any sense from a political representation point of view either, but here we are.

two wrongs don't make a right.

That this is clearly a partisan issue for you in your own words instead of an issue of Americans receiving their due representation is disappointing.

One can ensure people have their due representation without making DC state. e.g., giving DC special senators and representatives in House (with regular voting powers) without making DC state (and thus keeping US congress exclusive jurisdiction over DC).

The fact that you feel so smugly confidant in your hyper-condescending self-righteousness is similarly disappointing. Especially because I gave two real solutions that make a lot more sense and you dismissed them out of hand because they're "partisan", when they're absolutely the opposite. both my solutions make a lot more sense from an objective standpoint, because they preserve the due representation and one of them also preserves the original intent in making DC independent.

It's kinda mindblowing that you can't identify your own hypocrisy right off the bat and actually posted this comment.

State creation has been partisan for much of this country's history for what it's worth. I find any excuse for not giving the district two senators and a representative (or more) to be unconscionable and based in partisan politics. You are welcome to argue otherwise.

Wait, so in your first comment you’re upset that I’m being partisan, and then here you’re saying it has to be partisan?

That’s quite the turn around.

You’ve also made some pretty bold claims without explanation. What makes you feel that it’s “unconscionable and based in partisan politics” to not give a single city two senators and instead follow the two options I proposed?

ETA: Your hypocrisy is brought into even starker relief with this comment. You’re like the people who were arguing for packing the courts (before the election) because it just makes sense (for whatever inane “nonpartisan” reason they could come up with), and then when asked “What if Trump wins?”, their face just drops...

Your proposed solution creates its own host of problems. Someone can't vote in a state unless they are residents of that state, subject to the laws and jurisdiction of that state. For example - what does it mean for DC residents to vote in, say, Virginia, for a Federal election. Who defines the Congressional districts? Do you pre-dictate to Virginia that it gets a Congressional district that matches the boundary of DC? What if that district has radically more or fewer residents than other districts in the state?

I'm seriously considering your proposal and not mocking it, but I don't think it's any more or less sensible, on its face, than creating a new "state". Note, I put "state" in quotes because I don't see why we can't dictate in that state constitution that the state is administered by Congress.

Evidence leads me to believe PR would be competitive. GOP primary voters are overwhelmingly racist though, so the politicians feel an imaginary sword hanging over their heads.

You don’t have to think anything, there are millions of boricuas across the US who will happily fill you in on how divisive statehood is and how little mainland politics factor into it.

Thanks but they had to establish their boricuas outside of PR to have any input which makes me discount their input against the idea.

They're better off becoming independent. There's nothing for them in the United States. The statehood cry is only coming from cynical democrats and corrupt business politicians in PR whose only interest is in trade with the US for their own benefit because they have financial connections to the US, not ordinary Puerto Ricans. The only reason statehood gets so high in these polls is that the commonwealth, free association and independence voters have been boycotting the plebiscites forever.

We need to adopt similar strategies for getting e.g. green energy production off the ground. Thinking of things like solar panel production.

There was a brief push by the government to encourage funding of things like Solyndra under Obama, but obviously that didn't all pan out.

I think that putting substantial funding into making the US the world leader in climate change related technology is such an obvious slam dunk that it defies belief for me that there seems to be no political will to do it.

Argue about the reality of climate change if you must, but the simple facts are that there is finite oil, finite coal, finite natural gas and the extraction and processing of those fuels is an expensive and dirty business. Of course solar, wind, hydro and nuclear don't compete yet -- how about putting in the same R&D money as fossil fuels? And when you make it work, the entire world will buy this tech from you. It could clearly be the US's next economic gold rush, after the Internet and post-WW2 manufacturing (and, I guess, the gold rush).

I do wonder if the economic approach is just doomed to be a non-starter, and if the faster way is to frame it as a national security issue. That leads to a number of other problems, but time is clearly of the essence and they know how to spend money over there.

> There was a brief push by the government to encourage funding of things like Solyndra under Obama, but obviously that didn't all pan out.

Obama-era subsidies of clean energy definitely panned out (though solyndra was a failure). Drive from California to Texas some time, and count the windmills. Those were subsidized at about the same time as solyndra.

From what I could tell from reading placards on the sides of the (many) convoys that deliver more on a daily basis, they’re mostly made by GE.

Similarly, rooftop solar was bootstrapped on top of those subsidies (though the Chinese won the panel manufacturing part of that industry, the US did well on battery technology).

Also, this hasn’t been so much a brief push as a sporadic push. The three blade giant windmill design was invented during California’s big wind power push in the early eighties.

I realize that I could have phrased it better. You're totally right that there were successes, I just meant that not all of the investments panned out. But also, that's what investing is: taking a risk.

I find it comical that it's often presented as a giant boondoggle when, as you say, the world is already greener as a result.

But you are still missing the point. The same program that lost many on Solyndra made the government money overall (despite losing it on Solyndra and a few others): https://www.csmonitor.com/Business/In-Gear/2016/1017/Solyndr...

I was asked to do a bit of robotics consulting for Solyndra. I figured that it wasn't going to work out when the guy we talked to took us to a conference room that looked too nice, and admitted that he hadn't been on the production floor in the next building before me and my buddy asked to go check that out.

We took the job anyway because it looked interesting, started doing the preliminaries, and when we went to get the test panels a couple weeks later, a FBI lady shooed us away from the parking lot as they were taping the building up.

Very weird.

I think that Solyndra was specifically a terrible choice for the government to make an investment in, but it was exactly the type of industry they should generally be investing in.

But I guess at least Seagate got a nice building out of it.

Seriously? Solyndra was being hailed as the pinnacle of American technology, during Obama’s era.

When it closed up shop, people were blaming China, again, for stealing American technology, and putting another good American company out of business.

But from your description, it sounds like Solyndra was a scam to part investors and the American government, with their money.

I think skuhn put this nicely up-thread. There were both successes and misses, and investing is all about taking risks with the understanding not all of them will pan out. Apparently the program was profitable on net.

Except there is money to be made in the green energy industry. There's no money to be made building a giant radio telescope. Sometimes corporations have a need for scientific institutions and their patronage helps keep the lights on but I really can't think of any way that can apply to something meant to stare at the stars. What could help is designing a radio telescope that have both scientific use and military use like China's telescope in Argentina. You have one user willing to pay plenty for time on it and another user that is just happy to get some work done.

As proof of your point, Arecibo was originally built as a military project with general scientific value as a bonus.

That money would be better spent building roads etc, fuck just give it for free to the worker. Some would end up running local businesses instead of stuffing offshore accounts.

> These insanely expensive defense projects are wealth transfer programs that make contractors like Lockheed and their many sub-contractors rich, and also create jobs in these communities.

I wish we'd go back to calling the "Defense Department" the "War Department" as it was originally called. And stop calling it "expensive defense projects" but "expensive war projects". Call it for what it really isn't. We aren't defending ourselves from anyone. We are the one's attacking everyone.

> The problem (partly) is that the F-35 program puts money into 307 congressional districts in 45 states [1]. These insanely expensive defense projects are wealth transfer programs that make contractors like Lockhead and their many sub-contractors rich, and also create jobs in these communities.

I agree with this. I've been saying for years that our military programs are giant socialist jobs programs in disguise (that unfortunately have the side effect of propping up the military industrial complex). If we were honest with ourselves and re-allocated that money to actual jobs programs we would get a much better ROI. Given the obscene amount of resources wasted we could reallocate a significant chunk of it without hurting our military preparedness one bit.

One important piece of military preparedness is having a population of experienced engineers, manufacturing infrastructure, leadership, R&D, etc. Institutional knowledge is very real. Weapons programs also simply take decades. You might be able to churn out web apps in a few months, but cutting edge aircraft, not so much.

What do we have? Unprecedented world peace. Why do we have it? American foreign policy.

You have to remember our military budget covers all of NATO in an intentional bid to reduce the military power of our allies which helps keep them peaceful.

> What do we have? Unprecedented world peace. Why do we have it? American foreign policy.

Wait, what?

There have been hundreds of armed conflicts going on around the world since the end of WW2, many of which were either directly instigated by the USA or at least involved the USA. There are dozens going on right now [1] some resulting in massive casualties. I don't think we will ever see world peace.

You don't mass-produce already-obsolete fighter jets in order to promote peace or as an innocent act of military preparedness and industry knowledge-building. You build them to fight war.

1;: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ongoing_armed_conflict...

It isn’t about absolute peace, that is practically impossible.

It’s about relative peace, worldwide number of conflicts, casualty rate by population, geographical spread of conflicts, etc.

What is unprecedented is your chance of being killed in war has gone down substantially and stayed down after WWII. The types of conflicts have changed, civil wars now dominate, other types have gone down significantly or have been eliminated. There have not been conflicts between major military powers.

I worry about what happens when Pax Americana inevitably ends, as all things do, and if it will come in our lifetimes. I don't think that we have built a geopolitical system that will survive its absence.

Spending our money on a giant military behemoth makes sense in a mutually assured destruction / deterrence sense, but I think that approach only gets you so far. It also creates a gigantic war machine that exists only to find conflicts. The nuclear arsenal strongly deters conflicts from rising above a certain level (as long as rational people are on both sides...), but the rest of the machine gets put to use distressingly often.

You can't just stop funding it tomorrow, and you can't even really reduce its funding without considerable pain and risk, but we must find a way to transition more and more of our military power to economic and cultural diplomacy (which we also have always done, but which has been diminished in recent years).

I would sooner credit the 35th rule of acquisition ("Peace is good for business") than American foreign policy for the lack of a global conflict.

But then what changed between 1900 and 1945? We had two world wars between those years and nothing but small localized wars never between major powers after?

Weapons. We developed weapons that could sanitize the planet, and in the case that someone might challenge our intention to actually use them, we developed weapons that ran the spectrum so that war against us would always seem a major losing proposition. The only thing left is insurgency and proxy wars, always carefully enough to not trigger major action.

Given that game becoming economically codependent and the world is the best play for the available game, and then indeed “peace is good for business”.

Small localised wars??

Did you know that the Vietnam War had the biggest aerial bombardment in history[1], of all wars?

The body count in Vietnam easily exceeded 1 million and may be as high as 4 million[2].

Do you think that's a small, localised conflict?

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

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

Yes, I do. Another war between great powers in 1970 could have had a death toll in hundreds of millions.

Bad example. It's not to be confused with the 34th rule of acquisition (war is good for business).

>> the political incentives need to be fundamentally re-aligned.

Being the first president to announce the detection of an extraterrestrial intelligence would be a big deal. Clinton certainly jumped on the mic pretty fast when we thought life had been found on mars. Such possibilities could provide the political motivation to keep the next giant telescope funded.

It's an incentive to keep things going for up to eight years -- arguably only four.

"This needs maintenance or it'll collapse in five years" has little political weight if your term ends in four years.

Then let's build a new Arecibo-esque observatory in each of the 50 states and other territories. We'll combine all of them together to make the VLA look tiny. That'll be 120 employees multiple by the number of locations so we're talking > 6000 employees. Plus, all of that science.

Perhaps Lockheed should make a telescope that’s so big, it spans 45 States?

How spread out can the receivers in a Very Very Large Array be? My understanding is that with radiotelescopy they can be widely dispersed, but I'm far from an expert.

Really, you just need manufacturing/contractors in many places. This part built in Pennsylvania, that one in Michigan.

VLBI arrays [1] are networks of radio telescopes that combine data from multiple instruments spread out over a continent or the whole planet. A network like this emulates a continent-size or a planet-size radio telescope and produces radioastronomy's highest resolution images.

The most sensitive VLBI array is the European VLBI network [2] which spans the sort of scales you have in mind.

A VLBI array can also incorporate space-based nodes, see e.g. [3].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Very-long-baseline_interferome...

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

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

You do realize the money spent on these projects comes out of pockets of all taxpayers?

So we are really talking about wealth transfer from all taxpayers to some taxpayers who are usually doing well already plus huge losses on the way.

Obviously, there is a bunch of technology being developed that benefits US but let us not kid ourselves, it is not the most cost effective way of doing research.

I don't think the OP was at all suggesting that it's a good system. They were just explaining the current incentive structure.

And, unlike an F-35A, Arecibo has (sigh, _had_) a history of accomplishing its design goals.


I think the F-35 is basically sorted, now, IIRC. The unit cost is down to about 85 million, which is far from cheap but roughly where a plane the does what the F-35 aims to do (As well as the different variants, the whole thing is designed to be an enormous airborne sensor fusion platform) should be.

I mean, this sounds nice and all, but it is CLEARLY false

James Webb Space Telescope: Proposed Budget: $500 mil Current Budget: $10 Billion

Space Launch System Current Budget: $20 billion

ITER: Proposed Budget : 22 Billion Euro Current Proposed Budget: 64 Billion Euro

There are lots of science projects that are funded. Some of them just get more attention than others

No, it's right.

> James Webb Space Telescope: Proposed Budget: $500 mil Current Budget: $10 Billion

That is over 40 years! Almost 30 years to build it and 10 years to operate it. That's $250 million per year.

> Space Launch System Current Budget: $20 billion

SLS is not a science program.

> ITER: Proposed Budget : 22 Billion Euro Current Proposed Budget: 64 Billion Euro

The proposed budget is 22 billion, not 64. That's for almost 40 years of construction and 20 years of operation. So we're talking 60 years of funding. Think about that, this is something that could revolutionize everything! Save the planet too. We're spending 360 million per year or so on it. That's absurd.

There are a few big science projects, and even they get very modest funding.

Let us put the F-35 into context. It will cost 1.7 trillion dollars for 55 years. That's an insane amount of money, 30 billion per year. https://www.stripes.com/news/us/pentagon-reportedly-estimate...

We fund science, which improves our lives and saves us from pandemics, at a pittance, and fund insane programs to bomb poor people at crazy levels.

It's funny you call out military spending, when military spending is what paid for this dish to be built in the first place.

NASA decided this dish wasn't worth even a few million a year in funding. Perhaps this dish simply wasn't worth maintaining? Which is the conclusion multiple organizations seemed to have settled on.

I’m very skeptical or maintenance quotes. It’s very rare something actually costs the government what it was quoted. For all we know it would have kept the satellite alive for barely another year.

Why did it fail? Was it a lack of ongoing maintenance?

Ultimately, it was old. It wasn’t designed to handle the stresses it experienced, and important things failed.

It is possible but far from certain that inspections could have found and fixed cable problems before ultimate failure.

The structure apparently was inspected several years ago and declared sound. I suppose one can always say "more thorough inspections!" but it looks like this was a surprise and would have happened on any reasonable budget.

You can design and inspect things like they were aircraft, but then everything you do is a large multiple more expensive. It’s hard to think of a one of a kind instrument that is an enormous outdoor installation failing after 57 years in operation is an outcome that deserves any blame.

It's also due to the nature of how it was built and assembled. You can't lower the big suspended machinery in the middle without dismantling the dish underneath it.

Damage from multiple hurricanes as well

Just say there are massive polar gold deposits on Mars. Funding solved end of next week.

Before and after picture from the same account:


And just posted… pictures of the destroyed reflector dish: https://twitter.com/DeborahTiempo/status/1333806230125604867

Wow. At least one of the concrete towers appears to have completely snapped off at the last step from the top.

The uppermost section snapped on two of the towers and the last tower lost the two uppermost sections.

What a sad day for our species.

John Michael Godier made an interesting interview with Saptarshi Bandyopadhyay regarding placing a radio telescope on the far (silent) side of Moon. Notably, our moon is also obviously devoid of the ionosphere, but what is less obvious, is that this would allow us to observe wavelengths that have so far never been studied by humans.


"observe wavelengths that have so far never been studied by humans"

That's pretty exciting. Historically, every time we find a new way to observe the universe, we discover something that fundamentally changes our understanding. (E.g., optical astronomy put the nail in the Aristotelian model. Radio revealed that our galaxy was one of many. X-ray revealed that black holes are real, among other high energy phenomena.)

That seems to be the plan, in the sense that there is no plan for what exactly to listen for. Just start listening.

That said, there are some signals (like the 21cm hydrogen line) from the Universe's Dark Age that have redshifted to what we can expect to listen for in the multiple meter wavelengths, even 10m or more. But what we will learn from this? I agree with you, it will be exciting.

Additional benefit to moon telescope: No corroding moisture and wind stress to slowly degrade and eventually collapse it under the weight of 6X more gravity.

Downside: Harder to get to if you do need to make repairs.

No wind or moisture but constant bombardment by micrometeorites. Sensitive instruments whacked by bullet-like impacts are notably hard to maintain. You could cover all sensitive systems with Whipple shields or something but that's just more mass to loft and assemble.

I was there 10 years ago. I have some video and photos from the observatory. Was pretty awesome place to visit. One of a kind in the wold. But even back then some of the panels looked damaged.

Hard to imagine that an observatory of such scientific importance, would be neglected and allowed to rust away until cable break.

Trump Created The Space Force, and bragged about how much money he gave Puerto Rico after the hurricane. Large projects like this need ongoing government funding. So I'm surprised more was not done to prevent this.

Similar things happened during collapse of the USSR. Major scientific projects just got left behind to rust.

I know that China built a new larger radio telescope, but this one could send out messages.

The observatory helped us map planets, find pulsars, track asteroids, and send messages to aliens.

Arecibo message https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arecibo_message#Numbers

>Similar things happened during collapse of the USSR. Major scientific projects just got left behind to rust.

It's fascinating to think about it. Some projects like advanced rocket engines were salvaged by people who care and other projects like the Buran shuttle were left to rot and destroyed by petty stuff like rooftop collapse.

At the end though, maybe it's just a natural selection process. Arguably, saving the Buran might have turned into an expensive mistake considering the fate of US shuttle program.

Unfortunately termination of the Buran project also led to discontinuation of the Energia rocket [0]. It was quite a marvelous rocket and could've been used without Buran in the Polyus configuration. And in the late 80s there was even a modification in development with airplane-like reusable boosters.

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

The initial impetus for the Buran was a desire to match capabilities with the US. Unfortunately, it’s not surprising that a rocket meant for such a political purpose fell to the wayside after the fall of the Soviet system.

Saving vs Preserving: These important historical scientific devices might be fun to view later. It is interesting to think about these MASSIVE aerospace museums with hundreds of planes, like one out in Tucson, AZ. Just hangars and hangars of historical planes, with a few historically interested visitors. How much preservation is the right amount?

The logical thing to do here is to simply rebuild it, right?

I mean all the infrastructure is there. Power, networking, housing, staff, etc., etc. Like there couldn’t ever be a more convenient place to drop a similar type of instrument, right?

And it seems that the towers are still up, surely the anchors for the cables are no worse for wear. The actual dish itself looks to be composed of a bunch of panels that are probably designed for easy replacement. And most of them seem to still be intact.

Just string up a newer, lighter weight, more powerful state of the art instrument array on a newer, stronger, lighter set of cables.

Or am I missing something obvious?

There is no money for this. The National Science Foundation, the primary source of funding for Arecibo, has been trying to shut it down or offset its cost for years. NSF is a part of the US government, so it has been a victim of the cuts to public science that have affected universities and institutions across the US since the end of the Cold War and the Great Recession. You are right that it would be simple, but there was nobody willing to fund it until it was too late.

That is the real tragedy here, Arecibo was killed over the course of years.

>NSF victim of cuts to public science

Why is this completely erroneous fact believed by so many people? Other than a 1 time injection due to the 2008 crisis, NSF funding increases nearly every year and is currently at its second highest budget ever: https://dellweb.bfa.nsf.gov/NSFRqstAppropHist/NSFRequestsand...

Counterpoint: https://www.nsf.gov/about/budget/fy2019/pdf/40b_fy2019.pdf

In FY2019 NSF reduced its budget for Arecibo from $8M to $6.08M a 24% reduction in support for this instrument.

It's both true that the NSF a whole is getting an increased budget and that the NSF reduced its budget for this particular instrument.

Yes, but the GP comment was saying the NSF's budget was growing (which is also true) but the GGP's comment that NSF was reducing support for Arecibo is also correct. So for context I thought it might add a bit more depth to the question of "whether or not NSF was funding Arecibo or trying to get rid of it / defund it" idea.

And personally I was surprised that for $8M a year you could fund the program (presumably that was with a bunch of clearly needed maintenance being deferred). It really is too bad that some billionaire didn't just fund it. I'm wondering if Paul Allen helped out when he was alive.

Thank you for the correction. I had been following the news about Arecibo mostly and had not investigated NSF's total funding.

There is a footnote that specifically mentions some additional funding to repair Hurricane damage to what sounds like Arecibo.

The NSF budget increased dramatically between 1951-2008 -- but when accounting for inflation in the figures you linked, has declined by about 10% in real terms since then.

(That is, the 2010 NSF budget of $7.045 B in 2010 is in real terms equivalent to about $8.413 B today, about a billion dollars more than the real 2020 budget of $7.066 B, using the inflation calculator at [1].)

[1] https://www.in2013dollars.com

The linked budget summary says it is in "Millions of Current Dollars". I interpret that to mean it is already inflation adjusted.

That is what I would have interpreted that to mean as well, but the numbers in the far right column don't really appear to be inflation-adjusted relative to the actual primary sources.

Here, for instance, is the actual appropriations bill for 1998 [1]. As you can see,

> "There are authorized to be appropriated to the Foundation $3,505,630,000 for fiscal year 1998."

For comparison, the value in the aforementioned table for FY1998 is $3,430.63 M. This is a bit off, presumably because in contrast to the bill the values in the table are " after supplemental appropriations, transfers, and reprogrammings".

I had missed, though, that the appropriations for the last two years were actually higher than the request, so some signs of recent growth.

[1] https://www.congress.gov/bill/105th-congress/house-bill/1273...

Most radio astronomers would rather see the money spent on the SKA instead (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Square_Kilometre_Array). Looking at the epoch of reionization is where the excitement is in low frequency radio astronomy these days. I know the SKA can't replace Arecibo's radar capabilities, but the SKA will do more interesting astronomy.

The U.S. is NOT one of the governments supporting the SKA.

Maybe now we can be?

It still absolutely blows my mind that Arecibo was able to be used as an active radar to survey planets and other objects in the solar system.

Well, one reason why it may not be worth bothering is because of the existence of FAST.


It's bigger, more steerable, and better in (almost) every way, although one could imagine reasons why its location in China could be problematic.

FAST cannot do radar astronomy, as it has no transmitting capability. Among other things, this means FAST is less useful for tracking near-earth asteroids.

I assume that due to the rotation of the earth that when Arecibo emits a radar beam that other radio-telescopes on earth collect? Otherwise only objects within Arecibo’s relatively narrow FoV (that are also very close to earth) would be detected - so wouldn’t a purpose-built (and steerable!) radar emitter be more useful?

Arecibo was steerable, that's what the receiver array was for.

Sort of, 5 degrees isn’t exactly a lot.

Nope, it transmitted and received. The range was limited to about Jupiter because the dish would move over the effective horizon before the signals returned.

Pretty incredible!

Unfortunately the skewed motivations of academia make rebuilding this instrument less attractive to scientists.

If you build a new and very different instrument you can churn out a lot of papers picking the long hanging fruit on the new instrument (just whatever you discover as soon as you turn it on), you can churn out a lot of papers about the technical challenges that come up in a new and different instrument.

A well understood, well established instrument type is more valuable for verifying results and discovering the things that take decades of consistent observations. ... but these don't generate many publications.

Last time I check it is the problem to have those old things there.

Like you I initially think just a repair job. Big one no though. But it seems those remaining could harm anyone who do the repair. It was not designed with only one less cable. And hence those remained can cut anytime and anywhere. The whole area could be a danger Zone.

Seems you need to demolish the whole site if the discussion along this line is true.

See whether any better information. But I guess the reason why the maintenance is not there to prevent it is also the reason it cannot be rebuilt.

I think the question is: is an arecibo big dish observatory still a better choice for future goals than arrays of smaller dishes or maybe even some other technology?

Large portions of the towers fell. Large portions of the dish are destroyed. And if you're going to effectively build over again, you might as well build a bigger one.

Topography is a major determinant of the size.

Of course. And that is part of my point: Arecibo may not be the most sensible thing to rebuild if it's not salvageable and larger antennas exist.

It was built in a natural sinkhole, and maybe this is what happens to sinkholes?

I've read a number of publications covering Arecibo. I've not read anywhere that subsidence or any other sinkhole related activity hastened it's demise.

This seems to have been much more a problem of ~60yo hardware, suffering decades of insufficient maintenance funding, compounded by multiple tropical events and at least one earthquake.

That's fair. Thanks for sharing.

Scott Manley made a pretty good video on the issues at Arecibo https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4V3VCt24tkE (pre collapse)

He just released an update video following the collapse for those interested.[1] There's also some drone footage of the remains.[2]

[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vchDbyIRP44

[2]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRHXCWr7xt0

RIP, buddy. I almost feel like I should be seeing a black banner on HN today.

Arecibo was in the news recently, regarding it's decommissioning and controlled dismantling [0].

Here's a more detailed account of the collapse [1]. Looks like they called it, and it just happened quicker than expected.

[0]: https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2020/11/famed-arecibo-telesc...

[1]: https://www.theverge.com/2020/12/1/21754959/arecibo-observat...

A sad moment. Of course it didn't come surprising after recent news, still it is painful to see it collapse. Obviously, the funding had shifted to other projects some time ago or it had not fallen in disrepair. This probably means, the scientific output was less promising than those projects. Yet, beyond its immediate use, it was one of the very visible symbols of science and it hurts to see it go. I wonder whether there should be plans made for a completely new rebuild?

> This probably means, the scientific output was less promising than those projects.

No, it means that funding prioritization is completely screwed up. Arecibo was a world-class instrument. The next largest radar telescope isn't even one-tenth as powerful. This is a giant loss and a colossal screw-up of prioritization. Building something new costs a lot more than maintaining an existing installation (they were only spending single digits millions per year on Arecibo -- nothing). And they couldn't even come up with that.

Within the halls of Arecibo, it was rather well understood that the early funding/control issues that started in the mid 2000s was due to bad blood between leadership at NSF Astro and NAIC (through Cornell). Can't be proven for anything more than coincidence of course.

Wikipedia has a decently comprehensive summary of the funding cutbacks Arecibo faced: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arecibo_Observatory#Funding_re... They oddly enough don't mention some of the questionable things NSF AST did, like argue over Arecibo finding it's own funding: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/search-for-alien-...

> This probably means, the scientific output was less promising than those projects.

Not true. Arecibo was by far the most powerful planetary radar system on the planet, by something like a 20x factor of sensitivity. Arecibo's size and frequency used (2.38GHz) meant that it's beam was a great compromise between beam width and strength. The narrower beams available on the remaining telescopes makes it more difficult to find elusive and not well known near-earth objects.

Arecibo was contributing vast and meaningful science until it met it's untimely end.

> I wonder whether there should be plans made for a completely new rebuild?

Yes. Resoundingly yes. Even a comparable telescope (meaning we don't chase bigger and better like FAST) would be a massive enhancement. And with intentional planning, it would likely be possible to extend and enhance the capabilities while still reducing problems in the original design.

Unfortunately, I can only imagine the hurdles in design/funding/construction that a second telescope would face.

I've read that the agreement the NSF has with the local government means that the site has to be returned to its natural state. There will be no replacement on that location.

Plus, if there was no will to fund basic maintenance how are you going to fund a whole new instrument?

The need to return to a natural state is only in the event of a full divestment/closure of the site. If the site continues to operate in some fashion, it is not required to be restored. Also, if NSF divests the structure (essentially handing over all responsibility to some other party), I believe the new "owners" would also be bound by the need to restore.

However, neither of the above would prohibit a new replacement being constructed.

That being said, you're 100% correct. NSF is highly unlikely to fund the a new instrument. For a rather long time they've exhibited a distaste for Arecibo. Whoever it was that started NSF down this road back in 2006 must be quite happy with the results.

What's insane is how "affordable" a telescope can be compared to the things we casually build and destroy for military spending. Green Bank Telescope (105m telescope) was constructed for around 100 Million USD, and it's a moving telescope.

For the cost of a couple of F-35 jets, we could possibly build a new telescope, or make a rather large step in the right direction.

I've heard that radio astronomy was greatly supported by the military because it can be used to monitor for incoming ICBMs. I guess if Arecibo were still used for such purposes, they wouldn't have let it fall into disrepair. How is such monitoring conducted in this day and age?

Tracking is mostly done space-based. Because of political issues. In our moon shots, we frequently had 'blackouts' in tracking the Apollo capsules because it was over unfriendly or uncooperative nations who wouldn't share their ground station data.

It was my wife's school friend Marjory Bacon that headed that project. (She was also the person who turned on the Hubble telescope and initiated the first self-diagnostic)

It went thru the journalist filter a million times until unrecognizable.

The first answer is ICBMs are, now a days, mostly an IR optical thing.

The flightpath of most Russia to US ICBMs would never have passed over the observatory, obviously, but it was a major radar technology research site in the early years.

>The first answer is ICBMs are, now a days, mostly an IR optical thing.

Source? This seems unlikely since ground-based visual tracking would be obscured by e.g. clouds. Is ICBM tracking all space-based and visual? (I can see why IR is useful to detect the initial boost, but it would also seem rather useless to track a small, passive object in freefall).

DSP and more recently SBIRS are satellite-based systems, both use IR. If you track the missile to the end of it's burn you'll have a pretty good idea of where it's going after that -- ballistic trajectories are fairly predictable.



> small, passive object in freefall

That's probably anomalously hot as it plows back through the atmosphere.

I think radar stealth coatings are sufficiently advanced that they swung the balance back in favor of IR for tracking purposes.

Historically: it was hard / unknown how to make a flying object that resisted reflecting radar

Current: it's hard / unknown how to make a flying object that's resistant to radiating heat

> Current: it's hard / unknown how to make a flying object that's resistant to radiating heat

There are techniques to reduce infrared signature, though:


>as it plows back through the atmosphere.

I would assume that if you're tracking it on re-entry that's a little too late.

Depends on what you want to do.

Launch - early warning, max time, low certainty of trajectory

Boost - trajectory and impact refinement

Re-entry - terminal maneuvering, impact prediction, terminal interceptor cueing

I'd imagine you'd have ground-based sensors for terminal interception refinement, but having a wide angle view to cover highly maneuverable glide vehicles would be useful too.

The IR systems are space-based and look for rocket plumes in the ascent phase. Once a rocket gets above the troposphere there's no clouds to obscure it. It's an intensely bright IR source that easily stands out from the -60°C surrounding atmosphere.

Just a second of observing the plume's trajectory will tell the difference between and orbital or ballistic one. Ballistic missiles will also be launched over the poles to travel the shortest distance to their targets. So IR plumes over the North Pole either means Santa's upped his present delivery game or there's an incoming ballistic missile attack.

They're mostly talking about the initial launch detection which is indeed IR based because it's going to be nearly impossible to hide the signature of a rocket launch of any useful size. After that flight tracking is a lot of different sources like radar.

Hmm ok I watched the video someone else linked here, apparently the telescope was used to check for facilities in Russia by checking the reflection of radio waves on the moon. Pretty cool stuff.

The anecdote I heard was that it was because there was no good way of getting data on the USSR over-the-horizon radars - other than the times where their signals would reflect off the Moon and could be analyzed by the US, given good enough antennas.

A week or two ago when HN was discussing the second cable snapping, someone posted this origins history of silicon valley video: https://youtu.be/ZTC_RxWN_xo?t=2983 (the entire thing is about electronics and radar development from the atomic age through the cold war, interesting to watch whole but the timestamp link is the relevant radio telescope part).

Short story: before our nuke strategy shifted to basically all ICBM's and submarines, the plan was to nuke the soviets with fleets of long range bombers. To get the bombers in, though, you needed to know where the air defense radars were. The U2's were good at flying too stealthily and too high for missiles, but not great... one or two did go down creating some, er, light international incidents. So eventually someone figured out big air defense radars bounce off the moon when the moon is overhead, and suddenly there was a lot of CIA money funding radio telescopes like Arecibo and the Stanford dish.

That doesn't make any sense. OTH radars work by skipping off the atmosphere back to Earth (shortwave style). If the signals escaped to the Moon and back, it wouldn't work OTH.

The troposphere isn't 100% reflective. You're going to have loss, and some of that loss is going to bounce off of the moon.

Not directly ICBM related, but the Arecibo telescope detected an ionospheric anomaly in the 1979 Vela incident [0], believed to be an undeclared nuclear weapons test.

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

As sad as this is, I'm glad the NSF didn't try to repair it now. There could have been people on the platform when it gave way.

It might seem like they should have more redundancy - one cable broke, then a second, and just a week later the whole thing falls apart - but for structures held in place by tension it doesn't work like that.

A bicycle wheel has redundant spokes: you could design a wheel with 66% of the typical number of spokes and it would work OK. But if you do break a spoke, the wheel will start deforming straight away. If you can't replace the spoke, one piece of advice is to loosen the spoke directly opposite the broken one to even out the distribution of force.

This is not a matter of incompetence. They even had auxiliary cables installed some time ago, one of these was the first to fail.

All well-known best practices don't matter if structures cannot be maintained because the governing bodies deny the necessary funding for maintenance/repairs/operation.

In a sense Arecibo was knowingly "given up".

Well, there was a bit of incompetence. The auxiliary cable was almost certainly installed incorrectly and the failure mode that occurred (cable slipped out of its socket) would not have happened if best practices were followed.

But it was installed on the cheap: if they'd had more money they would likely have paid for more diligent engineers. After all, they built it pretty well the first time round. So at some level, yeah, the root cause is a lack of funds.

>Well, there was a bit of incompetence.

Where? What evidence do you have for such a claim?

>The auxiliary cable was almost certainly installed incorrectly

Are you almost certain? How do you know? What stopped you from being completely certain?

>and the failure mode that occurred (cable slipped out of its socket) would not have happened if best practices were followed.

Are you a radio observatory specialist? Please share! Looking at your submission and comment history, you don't appear to have any special expertise at all. Curious where your very specific and definite pronouncements arise from.

>But it was installed on the cheap

Again: What's your evidence for this claim? And inferring this from historical under-funding isn't a satisfactory answer.

>So at some level, yeah, the root cause is a lack of funds.

Kind of strange to make all of those claims above and then come out and just plainly state this at the conclusion.

You've made lots of claims and I think you're just talking out of your ass. If that's the case, your comments are shameful and inappropriate.

When it comes to the matter of cables failing, you should look to a specialist in cables, not radio telescopes.

why are you so angry?

Not to defend incompetence, but could the design have made it a bit unwieldy with the 900 (US) ton receiver housing the array of focusing lenses/mirrors? Is it common enough to suspend something that massive from so few points?

The only comparison I know is the FAST which opted to actively deform the dish itself for focusing rather than suspend such a heavy receiver.

The original platform didn't include the Gregorian dome. The auxiliary cables were added in the mid 90s during a major upgrade that included the dome, adding a considerable amount of weight.

The choices were made based on funding and ability. The main platform, towers, and reflector was designed and constructed in 1960, long before our computing capabilities could have even conceived of being able to accurately deform the surface. Heck, the reason the dome is so massive is that it holds a secondary and tertiary reflector to convert the focal line (an artifact of the primary reflector being a spheroid instead of a parabola) into a focal point.

Also, the 30-ton platform in FAST is the main limitation preventing FAST from being able to perform planetary radar science. It is too small and cannot support the weight necessary for a radar system of sufficient capacity.

In lots of telescope designs, the sensor is behind the dish. The part in front of the dish is only a reflector. Done that way, weight of a transmitter doesn't matter.

> cannot be maintained because the governing bodies deny the necessary funding for maintenance/repairs/operation.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arecibo_Observatory#Funding_re... funding was reduced 15 years ago.

Around 5 years ago there was talk about shutting this facility down. So yah, it was knowingly given up, but it wasn't just a short term thought, this was decades of administrators all saying the same thing.

Related their store is still open and even had a Cyber Monday sale


Ah, it's a good time to pick out something nice from the Fall Collection. https://shop.areciboobservatory.org/collections/ao-fall-coll...

You put the pun in punk.

So, one thing that isn't clear to me. They were already planning to decommission the structure, so was this a planned collapse, or did this happen literally right after their announcement by coincidence?

If its the latter, I'm very glad they made the call to not try to fix this thing. It would have been so much more tragic had someone been up on the sub-reflector/instrument assembly. Good call by the powers that be to keep it clear.

My understanding is the fact that this was possible (even likely) was why they decided not to attempt repairs. Basically, the second cable should not have snapped if it was still at design strength, so its failure put the strength of the others (and hence the entire structure) in doubt.

I might not have been clear in my comment. I understand why they didn't go up and repair it. I just wasn't sure if if they decided to go ahead and demo it or if it fell under its own weight just a week or so after they decided to not try to fix it.

That much isn't clear from the articles I have been able to find through a quick google.

Every article I've found indicates it was an unintentional collapse, but they're mostly sourced to the unidentified "officials and locals" from the AP report, which may just be the original tweet and replies.

EDIT: NSF confirms it was an unplanned collapse that happened overnight: https://twitter.com/NSF/status/1333772980539691008


"Unscheduled rapid disassembly", as it's sometimes phrased.

Though widely anticipated.

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