The Arecibo radio telescope will be demolished

Originally published at:


Well that sucks. I was just reading an update on it, and it didn’t sound good.

If there was the funding, we could rebuild it. Make it even better.


The impression I got is that the decision has more to do with there being no safe way to repair it. After they demolish it, maybe they could build another in it’s place, but in all likelihood that funding could be spent on more capable observatory projects.


It’s because Pierce Brosnan jammed that pipe into that chain, isn’t it?


It was pretty inevitable given the age of the telescope and lack of funding, but it’s very sad none the less.


Yeah the article I was reading was saying the same thing. They had 3 engineering firms, and the way it was constructed, when the cables started to snap, and more are fraying, it threats to just sort of come apart at the seams.


I think the first time I ever saw footage of that thing was in the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye, in which it was used by the villains to communicate with an orbital weapons platform. (In that movie, the giant dish was initially hidden under a lake because that’s how villains do.)

Which made no sense at all because even in 1995 it was possible to communicate with satellites using a device no bigger than an oversized cell phone.


The first time I saw it was in an episode of the X-Files. It wasn’t until it showed up in Contact that I realized it was still an operational scope.

This sucks.


First time I saw it was either on discovery channel, or maybe Bill Nye. I did see it in Contact, and it was cool there too.

Why not do an even bigger orbital telescope? I’m sure being in space they could use and inflatable or folded up reflector


If you’re watching a James Bond movie expecting the story to make sense, you’re barking up the wrong tree. All the best spy movies are parodies of James Bond movies. Except for 1967’s Casino Royale which was a hot mess.


The NSF had already decided that Areceibo’s contributions weren’t worth the cost. Funding a replacement? Forget about it,

It’s sort of like how Spitzer “replaces” hubble, but Spitzer is sensitive to a different (potentially more productive) part of the spectrum.


Yes but usually James Bond movies are notable for characters who have improbably advanced technology, not improbably cumbersome technology.


Which brings me to The Martian


I follow Phil Plait (aka the Bad Astronomer) on Twitter, and his hope is that a better telescope being built to replace it will be the silver lining to this story. IIRC radio observation isn’t significantly hindered by the atmosphere the way other wavelengths are, so it’s not as important to have an orbital scope for that portion of the EM spectrum. It just has to be built in a “quiet” location to avoid local interference.


There’s a new telescope in China called FAST that’s twice the area, with the same general design. So at least theoretically the work that Arecibo did can continue, although Trump has made an effort to piss off the Chinese.


I was thinking orbital because in microgravity you can build really huge extended structures that are flimsy and don’t need to be supported against their own weight.


Arecibo may be unique in that it’s set up to transmit, too. You don’t need that much, but it’s useful to have.

In 1964 Sam Harris arranged for it to be used I think twice for amateur radio moonbounce. There was so much gain with the antenna that lots of people could bounce signals off the moon and be heard. At the time, you needed a big antenna to even try.

I gather it’s been used for that in more recent times.

Arecibo funding was cut or eliminated some years back, another university stepping in to run it. So it’s been running on a budget for some years.


I don’t think it’s a zero-tradeoff solution, but I have a feeling that broadly speaking, interferometric dish arrays like the VLA are more cost-effective than single-dish telescopes, even on the ground.


You need to do regular maintenance, by the time things start to break it’s too late. Unfortunately, it’s easier to get money for flashy new projects than maintaining old stuff.

Regardless of whether it was strictly cost effective to keep it going the telescope had such historic significance that it should have been worth keeping.


What, nobody is going to link to the final showdown scene in which the baddie gets killed when those very same support cables for the array fail (due to some kind of space signal reasons? I forget why) and the array fall right on his head! It’s relevant to the situation in the article! Guess it’s up to me: