Loss of Arecibo’s massive telescope devastates Green Bank Observatory, astronomy community

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GREEN BANK, WV (WVNS) — A huge loss in the astronomy community is felt around the world, even through the Greenbrier Valley.

In November 2020, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) decided to decommission the massive 305-meter telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, after engineers found catastrophic damage to its infrastructure. For more than five decades, the NSF said Arecibo served as a world-class resource for radio astronomy, planetary, solar system and geospace research.

The Green Bank Observatory (GBO) in Pocahontas County is one of many sites who used Arecibo’s data. Dr. Karen O’Neil serves as the site director for GBO.

“We… and the science that we do complement each other,” O’Neil said. “It’s been a very sad moment for astronomers all around the world to lose that telescope.”

O’Neil explained the data and technology shared between GBO and Arecibo helped fuel and finish many projects.

“The Green Bank telescope was able to turn and shift and goes to a wide range of frequencies,” O’Neil said. “The Arecibo telescope is much larger… a much more sensitive telescope. But its frequency range and the sky coverage it had was more limited, so the two worked together hand-in-hand.”

While GBO’s instruments can perform some of what Arecibo can do, O’Neil said nothing can completely take its place for now, as astronomers look for more resourceful ways to look up at the stars.

“There’s definitely science that is now lost and will not be replaced, unless another Arecibo were to be built,” O’Neil said.

While the astronomy community discusses Arecibo’s future, the site’s visitors center and its much smaller 12-meter telescope are still in operation.

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