Syllabus Section- Science and Technology


Why in News

• Puerto Rico's massive Arecibo telescope, famous for its stellar contributions to astronomy, collapsed on Tuesday, leaving many among the scientific community in shock and anguish. The collapse was devastating also for many Puerto Ricans, for whom the observatory was culturally significant.

• The telescope was popularised beyond the scientific community by the 1995 James Bond film 'GoldenEye', starring Pierce Brosnan, and Jodie Foster’s 1997 film 'Contact'.

What happened to the Arecibo telescope?

• The second-largest single-dish radio telescope in the world, Arecibo had withstood many hurricanes and earthquakes since it was first built in 1963.

• Even before its collapse, experts had expressed alarm about the telescope's condition, and had recommended a controlled demolition of the entire structure. On November 19, the NSF announced that the Arecibo would have to be decommissioned after two cables broke in a matter of months and threatened the observatory's survival.

• However, less than two weeks later, the worst-case scenario the NSF was seeking to avoid materialised when the telescope’s receiver platform, weighing 900 tonnes, collapsed 450 feet into the 1000-feet-wide dish below, smashing it.

Arecibo’s Contributions

• Being the most powerful radar, scientists employed Arecibo to observe planets, asteroids and the ionosphere, making several discoveries over the decades, including finding prebiotic molecules in distant galaxies, the first exoplanets, and the first millisecond pulsar

• In 1967, Arecibo was able to discover that the planet Mercury rotates in 59 days and not 88 days as had been originally thought. In the following decades, it also served as a hub in the search for extraterrestrial life, and would look for radio signals from alien civilisations. Arecibo also played a key role in tracking killer asteroids heading towards Earth.

• In 1993, scientists Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on the observatory in monitoring a binary pulsar, providing a strict test of Einstein's Theory of General Relativity and the first evidence for the existence of gravitational waves.

• The telescope had also become a cultural symbol for Puerto Rico, and drew around 90,000 visitors every year.


Source- Indian Express

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