Arecibo telescope, icon of science fiction, sinks after 57 years of operation – 04/12/2020 – Science

The Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico collapsed Tuesday morning (1st), the National Science Foundation (NSF) reported. The structure, which has been in operation for 57 years, has had support issues since August, as cables fell down that kept the 900-ton equipment platform suspended from a reflective plate 305 meters in diameter.

On November 19, the NSF responsible for the site announced that the damage was irreversible and that the telescope would be deactivated.

Scientists from all over the world visited the facility to do astronomical and planetary research. His main activities included research related to the search for extraterrestrial life. Arecibo has been one of the key meeting places for scientists who are part of one of the largest alien intelligence search projects, SETI @ home, run by the University of California at Berkeley.

The Arecibo radio telescope was able to detect electromagnetic radiation from space and monitor celestial bodies that act as a kind of radar. The device can also be used as a transmitter.

In 1974, scientists from the telescope sent a message into space that contained basic explanations of Earth’s civilization, such as a human figure and a representation of the solar system. The event came to be known as the Arecibo’s Message and was aimed at drawing attention to some form of intelligent life that might exist in the Milky Way. No reply to the message has yet been recognized.

Big names in science passed by, such as the American astrophysicists Carl Sagan and Frank Drake. But the gigantic equipment in itself is a relevant character in the recent history of science.

In the 1990s Arecibo appeared in major science fiction productions in American cinema and television. In “007 versus GoldenEye” (1995) the telescope was at the center of a dispute over the dominance of terrestrial technology. It was also the setting for the opening episode of the second season of the TV series “Arquivo X” in 1994.

His most famous appearance was in “Contact” (1997), a film by the science fiction master Robert Zameckis (responsible for the trilogy “Back to the Future”). The story is based on the book of the same name by Carl Sagan, which was first published in 1985.

Offering a realistic storyline about science and belief, Contact depicts the challenges scientist Ellie Arroway (Jodie Foster) faces in dealing with losses and personal conflicts while preserving the investments to continue her research on extraterrestrial life.

Arroway visits Arecibo to get data from his studies and the scenes with the imposing radio telescope nestled in a tropical forest surprise the viewer who imagines the science that men in white coats do in enclosed and over-lit environments.

The film inspired space physics Alessandra Pacini to pursue a career in science. Pacini was a researcher at Arecibo between 2017 and 2019 and had received data for her research until the end of the telescope’s operation.

“It was unforgettable to carry out my first experiment there and see the telescope for my observation sources,” says the scientist. “Everything is impressive in this place. This is an irreparable loss to the scientific community,” he adds.

According to Pacini, who is now a scientist at Northwest Research Associates (NWRA) in Colorado, there are some research projects like Nanograv that look for gravitational waves and watch pulsars (stars with a very intense magnetic field). , relied mainly on Arecibo for data and may be partially unpaired after the structure collapses.

“We knew there was a way [de queda]but it’s still sad to see this happen, “said Elizabeth Klonoff, vice president of research at the University of Central Florida (UCF), which temporarily administers Arecibo’s resources, in a statement.” We will continue to work with NSF and other contributors to find ways to support Arecibo’s scientific mission, “he said.

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