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Recognizing the Arecibo Observatory

The Arecibo Observatory was the largest single-dish radio telescope in the world from the 1960s until China built a larger one in 2016. The dish was an important tool for research until it collapsed in 2020.

HR 827

Resident Commissioner Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-PR) introduced HR 827, a resolution to recognize the value of Arecibo, in Congress, saying that “the 305-meter radio telescope made unparalleled contributions to the fields of radio astronomy, planetary, and atmospheric sciences, and played a role in inspiring thousands of students in Puerto Rico, the Nation, and the world to pursue careers in STEM fields through the Arecibo Observatory Education and Public Outreach Programs.”

The resolution also pointed out that Arecibo “significantly advanced the field of radio astronomy, including the first indirect detection of gravitational waves, the first detection of extrasolar planets, innumerable contributions to the field of time domain astronomy and the study of the interstellar medium, and played a key role in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence” and that it “had the best planetary radar system in the world, used by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for near-Earth object detection and was an essential part of the agency’s planetary defense program.”

The Arecibo Observatory has also “provided fundamental understanding of the ionosphere and upper atmosphere, and the interface between the atmosphere and space that protects the planet from solar wind, meteors, and other potential threats.”

The resolution continues,

Resolved, That the Senate—

(1) acknowledges the loss of the Arecibo Observatory’s radio telescope due to its collapse and its implications for the loss of a unique world-class multidisciplinary science facility which conducted research in the areas of space and atmospheric sciences, radar astronomy and planetary sciences, astronomy, and astrophysics;

S 467

In the Senate, Rep.Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) introduced the companion bill, S 467. With identical text, the Senate version of the bill was agreed to and passed in the Senate last week.

What next?

Members of the scientific community have been advocating the replacement of the decommissioned dish since it became clear that the current dish could not be repaired.

The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope, the largest steerable telescope in the world, collapsed in 1988. With the support of the two senators for West Virginia, Green Bank was able to rebuild its telescope.

Gonzalez-Colon is the only representative of Puerto Rico in Congress, since the territory of Puerto Rico has no senators and a single representative in the House. Gonzalez-Colon cannot vote on the floor of the House. With the support of the representatives of the 50 States, however, she has continued to work for the rebuilding of Arecibo.

The observatory is very important to the local economy, and to the global scientific community.

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