Alas, Arecibo

Tagged: Physics / Sadness

Alas, for the Arecibo Observatory/National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center is no more.

Arecibo 2020-Nov-17 after auxiliary cable snap Arecibo 2020-Dec-01 after instrument platform collapse Sad news: the Arecibo Observatory, already badly damaged from a snapped cable, has collapsed. [1] [2] The first photo is a satellite image from the NYT showing damage to the dish from an auxiliary cable that snapped and left a 100 foot gash. The second, from the BBC, shows the 900-ton instrument platform after it fell 400 ft down onto the dish at 7:55am local time (11:55 GMT) today.

Needless to say, it is beyond repair.

Needless to say, our barbaric rulers will refuse to rebuild, and likely will not even comprehend the loss.

It’s kind of personal with me: in my younger days, I had a housemate who was doing his PhD in SETI work. While Arecibo wasn’t his main thing, he did spend time there and told us enthusiastic stories.

I feel like some ancient Roman scholar, tearfully watching the barbarians destroying a civilization as they break what they cannot understand. Or like some ancient Alexandrine, watching and weeping as fanatics burn the Library they could not read. Or an ancient Pompeiian, watching from a distance as indifferent nature destroys the beloved city that is home and hearth.

O tempora, o mores.

Added 2020-Dec-03: Video of the instrument platform’s fall

A tweet (of all things!) reveals there were 2 videos of the collapse: one from the side, and another from a drone inspecting the cables at the time of the break! The original is from the NSF special report on Arecibo. The drone footage starts at 0:52 into the video. I don’t know whether to be happy about the technology that makes this possible, or sad that we’re just documenting our own decline.

Notes & References

1: M Cramer and D Overbye, “The Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico Collapses”, New York Times, 2020-Dec-01.

2: BBC News, “Puerto Rico: Iconic Arecibo Observatory telescope collapses”, BBC News, 2020-Dec-01.

Written Tue 2020-Dec-01

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