The Arecibo radio telescope is in trouble again

Low funding could shut it down entirely or transfer control to someone else.

AP Photo/Seth Shostak, SETI Institute

Unfortunately, the Arecibo Observatory's iconic radio telescope is facing an uncertain future once again... and there's only a short amount of time for you to have a say in its fate. The National Science Foundation is considering a number of options for the space-centric facility, including either putting its operations in the hands of partners or shutting it down entirely. It's holding public meetings today (June 7th) and accepting written comments until June 23rd to discuss the "environmental impact" of its options, but there's a good chance that the conversation will revolve around the telescope's survival.

It might be crucial to keep the Arecibo telescope around. While there are newer, more advanced telescopes (such as the Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array), Scientific American notes that Arecibo's giant dish is particularly well-suited to finding gravitational waves and pulsars. Lose it and you'd suddenly have much less data.

There's also the simple practical concerns. Shutting down the telescope would be expensive: completely restoring the Puerto Rican landscape is estimated to cost $100 million, or more than 12 years of operation with its current budget. And that's excluding the economic costs to the community around the site. Although it'd be unrealistic to keep Arecibo running indefinitely, it's possible that business as usual would be both cheaper and smarter.