Legendary Arecibo Telescope Will Close Forever: History Of Its Accomplishments
Legendary Arecibo Telescope will close forever. (History of its accomplishments)
After more than a half-century of supporting breakthrough scientific work—and providing a scenic backdrop for Contact, GoldenEye and other blockbuster Hollywood films—the iconic Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is going dark.
Engineers cannot find a safe way to repair it after two cables supporting the structure broke suddenly and catastrophically, one in August and one in early November.
It is the end of one of the most iconic and scientifically productive telescopes in the history of astronomy — and scientists are mourning its loss.
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“I don’t know what to say,” says Robert Kerr, a former director of the observatory. “It’s just unbelievable.”
The Arecibo telescope, which was built in 1963, was the world’s largest radio telescope for decades and has historical and modern importance in astronomy. It was the site from which astronomers sent an interstellar radio message in 1974, in the hope that any extraterrestrials might hear it, and where the first confirmed extrasolar planet was discovered, in 1992.
It has also done pioneering work in exploring many phenomena, including near-Earth asteroids and the puzzling celestial blasts known as fast radio bursts. All those lines of investigation have now been shut down for good, although limited science will continue at some smaller facilities on the Arecibo site.
“Follow me on this journey to get to know better how the Arecibo radiotelescope worked and which were the most important discoveries made by the Arecibo Observatory during the years!”
The Arecibo Observatory had its origins in an idea of Professor William E. Gordon, from Cornell University, who was interested in the study of the Ionosphere. Gordon’s research during the fifties led him to the idea of radar backscatter studies of the Ionosphere. Gordon’s persistence culminated in the construction of the Arecibo Observatory which began in the summer of 1960. With its 305m (1000ft) diameter dish constructed in 1963, the Arecibo Observatory continuously provided valuable data for the scientific community and the world.
We would like to celebrate Arecibo’s closing reporting some of Arecibo Observatory accomplishments in history.
In 1965 Arecibo Radiotelescope established the rotation rate of Mercury, which turned out to be 59 days than the previously estimated 88 days.
This discovery, one of the earliest major achievements of planetary radar astronomy, astounded astronomers, who sought to explain the new, correct rotational rate. The finding of a value for the rotational period of Mercury which differs from the orbital period is unexpected and has interesting theoretical implications. It indicates either that the planet has not been in its present orbit for the full period of geological time or that the tidal forces acting to slow the initial rotation have not been correctly treated previously.
Working with Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo, an astronomer from the University of Padova visiting the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, Shapiro began to develop an explanation for the new rotational period. Colombo, Shapiro recalled, “realized almost immediately that 58.65 days was exactly two-thirds of 88 days. Mercury probably was locked into a spin such that it went around on its axis one-and-a-half times for every once around the planet. The same face did not always face the Sun. That meant that near Mercury’s perihelion, that is, when its orbit is closest to the Sun, Mercury tends to follow the Sun around in its orbit. Near perihelion, then, the orbital motion and spin rotation of Mercury were very closely balanced, so that Mercury almost presented the same face to the Sun during this period.
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