Yesterday, the National Science Foundation announced that they’ll keep the storied Arecibo telescope running in the wake of the Hurricane Maria damage.
The NSF concluded that the best way forward was to collaborate with “new stakeholders” who will both use and maintain the facility, according to the Record of Decision. There could be some potential demolitions of buildings on the site, but funding will continue.
“This is great news,” said Abel Mendez, planetary astrobiologist at the University of Puerto Rico, Arecibo. “We hope to continue our science at the observatory.”
The iconic Arecibo telescope has been struggling financially for many years now. September’s devastating strike from Hurricane Maria could have been the last straw, but the telescope received its repairs and began limited observations once again only a week later. The facility is still running on diesel generators and there’s millions more dollars of fixes required, according to a Nature report.
Under this decision, the NSF will decrease funding from $8.2 to $2 million annually over the next five years as it looks for new partners, writes Nature.
Arecibo is now the second largest single-dish filled telescope behind the FAST telescope in China, but it can still make observations of rotating neutron stars (a.k.a. pulsars), exoplanets, and even assist with gravitational wave astronomy. And having a second dish is important—scientists feel much more confident about discoveries when two different experiments independently spot the same thing.
Mendez was just excited to continue doing science. He said: “I feel that this is a new life.”