They Know the Risks. They Want to Save Telescope Anyway

Petition, letter to Congress part of efforts to keep Arecibo landmark from being demolished
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 27, 2020 7:51 AM CST
Call for 'Emergency Action' Emerges on Doomed Telescope
This satellite image shows the damaged radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico on Nov. 17, 2020.   (Satellite image ?2020 Maxar Technologies via AP)

News last week that an iconic radio telescope that has gazed upon the cosmos for nearly six decades would be decommissioned and demolished has hit the scientific community hard, and now it's fighting to keep the astronomy landmark alive. The telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico sustained structural damage after cables holding a 900-ton equipment platform broke, slicing a 100-foot gash in the telescope's giant reflector dish. (A new high-res satellite photo commissioned by Nature from Planet Labs shows the damage from above.) After further inspection, additional issues were discovered, and the National Science Foundation decided to shut the telescope down for safety reasons. Now a petition is asking the government to somehow find a way to keep the telescope in operation, ABC News reports.

"We urge emergency action to have the Army Corps of Engineers or another agency evaluate the telescope structure and search for a safe way to stabilize it," reads the petition to the White House, which had more than 28,000 signatures as of Friday. notes if the petition gets 100,000 signees by Dec. 21, the White House has to respond within two months. Jenniffer Gonzalez, Puerto Rico's resident commissioner, is also taking action, sending a letter to Congress last week to request funds to make repairs. The NSF maintains the structure is beyond safe renovation. "We understand the risk of going there and trying to fix it," Wilbert Ruperto-Hernandez, one of the organizers of the "Save the Arecibo Observatory" campaign, tells "But not many people think that it should be an excuse to just demolish it." (More telescope stories.)

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