At Slate, science writer Shannon Stirone pays tribute to the Arecibo telescope, the massive, 1,000-foot-wide radio telescope that will be decommissioned after two critical cables that hold up the 900-ton device suffered irreparable damage this past summer.
At 57 years old, Arecibo has helped us look deeply into space, at light, stars, and entities beyond our planet. In doing so, it has helped us better understand ourselves as humans and our place in the incomprehensible vastness of the cosmos. Stirone credits Arecibo with sparking her interest in science.
Built in the early 1960s, Arecibo was initially designed to study the Earths ionosphere, the chemically active layer in the upper atmosphere that is ionized by solar radiation.
In the decades since, it has contributed to our understanding of pulsars, near-Earth asteroids, and planets within—and beyond—our solar system.
In the world of space and astronomy, Arecibo means different things to everyone, but at the heart, it seems to hit the same for us all—this telescope meant a level of access to the cosmos that we simply can’t find anywhere else.
Losing Arecibo—or any telescope of this magnitude, or any spacecraft—drives home something I think we tend to forget: Telescopes and spacecraft aren’t just tools. They are extensions of ourselves.