Credit: University of Central Florida

On December 1, 2020, the 57 year old 305-meter Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico collapsed after a series of failures of the supporting cables.

While no longer collecting scientific data, components of the telescope may be preserved for historical and educational purposes.

An Arecibo Observatory (AO) Salvage Survey Committee reports the retrieval of items that have potential historical significance, or that might be leveraged for instrument research or informal education.

Credit: Michelle Negron, National Science Foundation

The AO facility of the National Science Foundation operated under cooperative agreement by the University of Central Florida.

Critical salvage pieces

“In order to have a minimal impact on the environment, the clean-up of the site happened very quickly,” says Luisa Fernanda Zambrano-Marin, an AO analyst and co-Chair of the salvage survey committee. “This meant we had to work fast to identify the most critical pieces to salvage.”

Zambrano-Marin adds that, through nineteen weeks of weekly meetings, site visits, and a close study of hundreds of high-resolution survey photographs taken by AO-operated drones, the committee created a database of high-priority items and cataloged the actual pieces collected during the emergency cleanup. “We marked the salvageable items with pink neon construction tape to indicate that they should not be carried away by the clean-up crew.”

Arecibo leftovers.
Credit: Arecibo Observatory (AO) Salvage Survey Committee

“This is history,” notes Zambrano-Marin. “This is part of the bulk of technological wonders that allowed us to make great discoveries in astronomy, planetary science, and space and atmospheric science.”

Historical items

Among the items, radar klystron hardware, a recovered feed array, pieces of the Gregorian dome and the platform, even a landing step from the cable cart that led onto the platform.

Some of the historical items have already been put on display at Arecibo’s Ángel Ramos Science and Visitor’s Center, which reopened to the public on March 10, 2022.

Landing step from the cable cart that led onto the platform. Credit: Arecibo Observatory (AO) Salvage Survey Committee

“It’s so important to be able to show visitors to the observatory or a museum the ‘real thing’ – something that actually captured the radio signals from a pulsar or transmitted a radar signal all the way to Titan,” says Bruce Campbell of the Smithsonian Institution and also served on the salvage survey group. “Those artifacts also provide a link to the human stories of the engineers and scientists that built and used them.”

Campbell adds that he hopes that in the long term “these objects will be preserved and displayed in ways that tell those stories and inspire students to go into fields like engineering, radio astronomy, or planetary science.”

Credit: Arecibo Observatory (AO) Salvage Survey Committee

Ultimate fate

Tracy Becker, an AO collaborator and Southwest Research Institute research scientist, explains that the ultimate fate of the recovered pieces of the legacy telescope is yet to be determined.

The final recommendations from the salvage survey committee, Becker explains, “include the need for action to protect the artifacts from further damage or corrosion, distribution of historic and technical information about the instruments and structural elements to museums and universities, and the formation of a follow-on group to consider the long-term preservation and educational potential of the recovered material.”

One Response to “Arecibo Telescope: Salvaging History”

  • Miguel Torres says:

    Home town Arecibo. Age 48 but at the age of 8 I was to be raised in jersey city NJ. I aways new home it was easy to tell people were I was from simply telling them remember the movie contact the big reader that’s were I am from.
    I am back in Arecibo,but this time is all falling a part they call it the ghost town why I ask my self,why dey don’t care to take a pain brush and paint why countless of store are close and why all the old values buildings are going into ruins .from the broken reader and the rund down capital building in the ccenter of the of the city .I ask why the answer we don’t have money .I told the are grandparents and their grandparents didn’t have money but they did a better job at keeping it all beautiful ,why us the grandchildren with the technology we have today don’t have the capability of keeping it beautifully.see I work for the historian of Newark NJ I learn that the artis that
    Was commissions to desig mount rushe more. Was from Sweden and had made 3 commission work in the city of Newark NJ
    I have worked with the historian of ponce were he told me during the earthquake he had a team taking all the art work from a building that was in danger of collapse. Puerto Rico come with lost of excuses I ask for work to repair the abandoned building I get no you have to ask this person I get not that other person knows so I gave up and started with the neighborhood my house is painted I painted the neighbor house and now the neighbors are in it too fixing. My house in NJ is part of the history society it’s beautiful in 1997 it was brought at penny’s is now worth millions..there is no excuse for preserving are history and structures. Puerto Rico is the doors to the new world and the United States territory most of the island is well kept is not the first time they gone through earthquake and hurricane but Arecibo is sad depressing because they say their no money it look bad really bad like their hiding the truth and the public is not dumb get it together. The Arecibo telescope brakes my hart was it kept up to date or was it a plain that when not maintain it crashes see there is no trust we assume the worst in the ghost town.

    Whe thing are in danger or are being destroyed
    Like the twin towers I volunteered I spend 5days going to grow zero. One of my proud moments as a human .not giving my self and cause for not helping to pike up the worst mess we humans are capable of. Hope this help

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