An educational center could open up at the site of the famed Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico as soon as early next year, but astronomy research won’t be among its missions. At least, not for now. The National Science Foundation announced this week that it’s chosen four institutions to take charge of the site’s transition, with a $5.5 million investment over the next five years. It’ll be a hub for STEM education, with a focus on life and computer sciences.
The NSF first revealed its plans for an education center at Arecibo last year after months of uncertainty about its future, confirming then that the telescope would not be rebuilt. The observatory’s main radio telescope suffered a catastrophic collapse in December 2020, when its 900-ton hanging instrument platform fell onto the dish below, destroying the 1,000-foot-wide structure. The collapse abruptly finalized the end of the telescope’s operations after nearly six decades of observations, during which it became a critical tool in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and in advancing our understanding of the universe.
The new educational center, called the Arecibo Center for Culturally Relevant and Inclusive Science Education, Computational Skills, and Community Engagement (Arecibo C3 for short), is projected to open in early 2024. It’ll be led in collaboration by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras, Universidad del Sagrado Corazón, University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
While there are other working instruments at the site still, which researchers hoped to see funding for to continue science operations, the NSF confirmed to Nature that this is not in its current plans, though it will accept and consider proposals. The telescope's impact will be presented in an interactive exhibit at the new center. Arecibo C3’s executive director, astronomer Wanda Díaz-Merced, told Nature, “We will be building on the heritage of Arecibo, but we will be building in a wider sense.”