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Open letter on the Arecibo Observatory

15 December 2020

Several dozen aeronomists, astronomers, and planetary scientists urge NSF to recover and preserve equipment that wasn’t irreparably damaged in the 1 December platform collapse.

Arecibo instrument platform.
The instrument platform at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, in an undated photo taken before the 1 December collapse of the platform onto the telescope dish. Credit: University of Central Florida, via NSF

The following is an open letter, dated 4 December 2020, on the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The letter has been lightly edited for style. The video below is courtesy of Carlos Pérez.

Positional statement on the recovery of Arecibo scientific assets

The terrible events regarding the Arecibo platform collapse have deeply impacted the national and international scientific community. In particular, there has been widespread and understandably intense shock and grief at the catastrophic loss of all the equipment located on the Arecibo platform for radio astronomy, planetary radar, and atmospheric science.

However, preliminary assessments have indicated that significant observatory resources located on the ground near the Arecibo reflector are not completely destroyed. These items have great potential for future scientific observations and should not be immediately consigned to materials recycling without an assessment of salvage potential and a subsequent plan for careful extraction and preservation of material that still has productivity. For instance, some of the HF heating facility antennas on the bottom of the dish are still standing. The HF facility’s transmission lines are intact below the damaged reflector panels. Aside from the area of main platform impact, the reflector ground screen is untouched. Reflector use at lower frequencies may be possible at reduced effective gain with relatively modest repairs using existing panel material already on site. Most of the supporting reflector cables and panels are still in place. HF and UHF transmitters, modulators, control hardware, data servers, generators, and other ground equipment remain intact in buildings 1 and 2, the optics facility, the 12 m very long baseline interferometry telescope area, the main warehouse, and other areas away from the main reflector.

For these reasons, we strongly advise that during post-collapse site cleanup, a carefully considered and deliberate course of action should be taken that protects remaining Arecibo equipment and assets that were not severely or irreparably damaged by the platform’s collapse. Preservation of these assets is a key step to allowing portions of the Arecibo radio science portfolio to be restored in innovative ways through future community proposals and other efforts. This approach will truly make the best out of the current situation, with direct benefit to human science explorations of our planet’s atmosphere and the universe.

The 85 signatories (as of 14 December) come from around the world and are mostly users of Arecibo.

Eliana Nossa
Jorge L. Herrera
Dale C. Ferguson
Ashton S. Reimer
Richard L. Ferranti
Asti Bhatt
Gerald Lehmacher
Cesar Valladares
Sean Marshall
Khushboo Jain
Erhan Kudeki
Alireza Mahmoudian
Meers Oppenheim
Lewis Duncan
Min-Chang Lee
Luisa Fernanda Zambrano-Marin
Jeff Dumps
Pablo Reyes
Bill Amatucci
Anne Virkki
Nipuni Palliyaguru
James P. Conroy
Danny Scipión
Trond S. Trondsen
Robert Minchin
Michael Rietveld
Ashanthi Maxworth
Marcus Leech
Carlos Pérez
Andreas Kvammen
Cissi Ying-tsen Lin
Mariangelly Díaz-Rodríguez
Evgeny Sergeev
Alessondra Springmann
Gonzalo Cucho-Padin
Tapasi Ghosh
Christopher Salter
Binghui Wang
Rob Pfaff
Michael W. Busch
Glenn Hussey
Rob Miceli
Kevin Ortiz Ceballos
Bárbara Rojas-Ayala
Tim Dolch
Philip J. Erickson
Lindsay Goodwin
Thomas Leyser
Angeline G. Burrell
Tima Sergienko
Theresa Rexer
Lisa Baddeley
Nicole Lloyd-Ronning
Brian Gilchrist
Aram Vartanyan
Katie Herlingshaw
Lindis Bjoland
Andy López-Oquendo
Juha Vierinen
Stan Briczinski
David Hysell
Erkka Heino
Abniel Machín
Wilbert Ruperto Hernández
Denton Ebel
Anthea Coster
Christiano Garnett Marques Brum
Patrick Taylor
Susan Nossal
Scott Rohan
Abel Méndez
Carl Friedberg
Laird Whitehill
Poorya Hosseini
Mary Putman
Natasha Cooke-Nieves
Amanda Dawn Christie
Alexander Chernyshov
Jim Breakall
Marcel Agüeros
Julia Deneva
Frank Djuth
Jonathan Krall
Joel Weisberg
Andrei Demekhov

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