Is the famous Arecibo Observatory close to its end?
It has helped guard our planet from the threat of wayward asteroids, studied some of the most remote bodies in the cosmos and been used to make countless invaluable astronomical discoveries. For good measure, the Arecibo radio telescope, one of the world’s largest observatories, provided the setting for the spectacular dispatch of evil agent Alec Trevelyan (played by Sean Bean) at the hands of James Bond (then played by Piers Brosnan) in the film GoldenEye.
But now the great radio telescope is facing closure. Despite being one of the most powerful instruments of its kind in the world, the Arecibo, which is based in Puerto Rico but funded by US science agencies, is facing the axe, a victim of federal budget cuts.
Arecibo’s annual running costs of around $12m are currently met by the US National Science Foundation (NSF), which provides $8m for the telescope to be used to carry out astronomical research, while Nasa, which employs the telescope to survey the sky for asteroids that might collide with Earth, provides the other $4m. The space agency says it is willing to continue making its contribution but insists that it cannot increase its funding beyond that level.
However, the foundation, which supports basic science projects in the US, has been operating on a capped budget for the past six years and says it now has to find money to fund a crop of new astronomical observatories that are about to come on line. These include the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope, which is now being built in Chile.
Scientists had acknowledged that something would have to be dropped from the foundation’s list of astronomical projects to make way for these new observatories. However, they were stunned to discover that the Arecibo, which also featured in the sci-fi alien encounter film Contact, starring Jodie Foster, was on the hit-list of telescopes being considered for closure.
Read more here: The Guardian