In DepthAstronomy

Hurricane damage threatens Arecibo's future

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Science  29 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6358, pp. 1336-1337
DOI: 10.1126/science.357.6358.1336

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As Hurricane Maria hammered the Caribbean last week, a handful of researchers hunkered down in concrete buildings at the Arecibo Observatory with food, well water, and thousands of gallons of diesel fuel for generators. They had done their best to secure the observatory, a 305-meter-wide radio dish nestled in the karst hills of northwestern Puerto Rico. They stowed removable antennas and waveguides, locked movable instrument packages in place, and installed storm shutters on control room windows. Now, they have emerged to find only moderate damage to the observatory, on an island that has been devastated elsewhere. The surface of the dish was largely unscathed and a suspended instrument platform was still in place. Most worryingly, a large portion of a long antenna—the 430-megahertz line feed used for studying the upper atmosphere—appears to have broken off and fallen from the platform into the dish. Many are worried that the damage, likely on the scale of millions of dollars and apt to keep the observatory closed for weeks or months, will further threaten the existence of Arecibo, which is already on a short list of facilities facing possible closure or downsizing by the National Science Foundation in Alexandria, Virginia.