The government of Puerto Rico endorses the reconstruction of Arecibo

Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s outgoing governor says she supports restoring the Arecibo radio observatory. Still, it may take years to make a final decision about whether and how to restore the giant telescope. A December 28 executive order was signed by Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced stating that it was the commonwealth’s official policy to restore the 305-meter radio telescope, which is at the Arecibo Observatory. When a few cables broke early December 1, weeks after National Science Foundation (NSF) stated it was dangerous to fix cables on the telescope that had previously broken, the 900-ton observing platform of the telescope dropped to the dish below. In the final moments of her term, which concluded January 1, she signed the decree.

“As a policy matter, the Government of Puerto Rico emphasizes its belief in the restoration of the Arecibo Radio Telescope as well as the prompt restoration of world-class education and science at the Arecibo Observatory,” the order states. The order continues that the government of Puerto Rico plans to restore a “newly designed” telescope with a larger effective aperture as well as a wider field of view. The order also demands a more effective radar transmitter that is used for observations of the solar system, like characterizing asteroids near Earth.

The order notes that to begin the reconstruction job, the government would “assign and allocate” $8 million. In a separate interview, Vázquez Garced said that the funding came from budget surpluses of past years, but did not comment more on the funding’s origin. The support, she said, will be used to clear debris from the failure of the telescope as well as other work for the environmental remediation. However, the $8 million is just a modest down payment on the expense of repairing the telescope, with the astronomy community’s informal projections predicting it to spend multiple hundred million dollars.

In her executive order, Vázquez Garced provided no estimate on her own but said that “private sources, state and federal (including public-private partnerships as well as state-federal partnerships) would finance it. In particular, the NSF has not dedicated itself to restoring Arecibo. Two days after the telescope’s failure, at a briefing, agency officials stated their priority was on evaluating the damage and cleanup efforts. Ralph Gaume, who serves as the director in charge of the Astronomical Sciences Division at NSF, stated at that briefing, “NSF does have a clearly-defined mechanism for financing and large-scale building facilities, such as telescopes.”

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