Congress Directs NSF to Provide Report on Arecibo Observatory

Damage sustained at the Arecibo Observatory 305-meter telescope. (Credit: UCF)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Congress has directed that National Science Foundation (NSF) to provide it with a report on the future of the Arecibo Observatory (AO), whose main 305-meter radio telescope collapsed on Dec. 1.

“NSF is directed to report to the Committees within 60 days of enactment of this Act on the causes and extent of the damage, the plan to remove debris in a safe and environmentally sound way, the preservation of the associated AO facilities and surrounding areas, and the process for determining whether to establish comparable technology at the site, along with any associated cost estimates,” according to a report accompanying the fiscal year 2021 omnibus spending bill that Congress released on Monday.

The radio telescope’s 900-ton instrument platform suspended over the dish collapsed after a supporting cable snapped in November. A different cable snapped in August, causing a gash in the dish below.

Prior to the collapse, NSF had decided to decommission the iconic observatory after engineers concluded it would be too dangerous to try to repair it.

“The significant loss caused by the collapse of the 305-meter radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, is devastating. During its 57 years in operation, the telescope was an integral part of U.S. capabilities to advance scientific research and served as an iconic, beloved site for the residents of Puerto Rico and the scientific community,” the Congressional report said.

Completed in November 1963, Arecibo had been used for radio astronomy, radar astronomy, near-earth object detection and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

The University of Central Florida manages Arecibo as part of a consortium that includes Yang Enterprises and Universidad G. Méndez of Puerto Rico.