General, Research, Technology

Loss to science - destroyed the telescope with which scientists searched for aliens

Astrophysicist and popularizer of science Carl Saganbelieved that it was radio astronomy that would allow us to detect extraterrestrial civilizations. Sagan described his vision of the possible future of humanity in the science fiction novel Contact, the protagonist of which, a young radio astronomer, caught an encrypted alien message. In general, speaking about both the book and the film adaptation of the same name, one cannot help but recall the Arecibo Observatory located in Puerto Rico, because it is there that the novel takes place. Moreover, for 57 years of its existence, Arecibo, located at an altitude of 497 meters above sea level, has allowed many outstanding researchers to make scientific discoveries and even send a message into space, which is called the “Arecibo message”. Alas, now this amazing observatory does not exist - on the morning of December 1, 2020, a huge radio telescope suddenly collapsed, like an exhausted giant in a spray of metal and wire. We tell you what the observatory, named after the city of Arecibo, gave the world.

Astronomy icon - Arecibo radio telescope completely destroyed.

The Arecibo Observatory collected invaluable data by listening to mysterious radio signals emanating from the far reaches of the observable universe. This is a very sad event for astronomy.

The history of one observatory

Perhaps modern science has not yet encountereda loss of this magnitude. For nearly six decades, the Arecibo Observatory has been an important resource for radio astronomy and planetary research. It was also of immense cultural importance to Puerto Ricans. According to The New York Times, many said that the observatory inspired them to pursue careers in science and technology. And this, by the way, is worth a lot.

Built in 1963, the Arecibo telescopewas used for research in the field of radio astronomy, atmospheric physics and radar observations of objects in the solar system. It is noteworthy that the original purpose of the observatory was to study the Earth's ionosphere - the shell of energetic particles in the upper layers of the atmosphere. But Arecibo also emitted signals into space and received them from space - it was this ability of his that allowed scientists to obtain new data on the planets of the solar system. So, in 1967, astronomers found that the planet Mercury rotates in 59 days, not 88, as previously thought.

Photo autographed by American actress Jodie Foster in front of Arecibo Observatory. Foster is the lead actress in the film Contact.

For scientists, the observatory in Puerto Rico was the mostpowerful radar on the planet, capable of mapping asteroids and planets at a distance and uncover the secrets of the ionosphere. Recently, the Arecibo telescope has been tracking pulsars across the galaxy, looking for signs of gravitational wave interference. The observatory was also a center for the search for alien civilizations, and astronomers also used it to track killer asteroids.

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Arecibo message

November 16, 1974 from Arecibo Observatory tospace was sent a radio signal in the direction of the globular star cluster M13, which is 25,000 light-years from Earth. As, probably, our regular readers could already guess, the authors of the encrypted message (as well as the message left on the gold plate of the robotic spacecraft Voyager 1 and Voyager 2) were astronomers Frank Drake and Carl Sagan.

The message itself lasted 169 seconds and the wavelength was 12.6 cm. The researchers believed that the message would help aliens understand that they are not alone in this cold and dark universe.

The Arecibo message consists of a sequence1679 digits and begins by listing numbers from one to ten in binary. Immediately after follows the number of protons in the atoms of nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and phosphorus - the main elements of carbon life. The third part of the message describes the building blocks of DNA - nucleotides, and the fourth part - the DNA helix.

Arecibo's message and its transcript.

Decoding the next part of the message allowsfind out the average height of a representative of the species Homo Sapiens and even imagine the outlines of his figure. The sixth part of the message describes our home star and all the planets of the solar system. It is noteworthy that the Earth in the message is shifted relative to other planets. Astronomers did this to designate her as the source of the message. Having deciphered the last, seventh part of the message, the aliens will receive some information about the telescope itself, once located near the city of Arecibo in Puerto Rico.

Surely no one knows if the message will reachArecibo someday his addressee. Since the answer to the question "where is everyone?" still unanswered, it is not worth overestimating the likelihood that someone will ever receive and be able to decrypt our message. And yet, the Arecibo message is an important milestone in the history of our species and an original way for our species to declare itself, at the same time celebrating the discovery of a powerful radio telescope.

This is interesting: Intelligent life outside the Earth - reality or fantasy?

Why did Arecibo collapse?

According to the US National Science Foundation,a huge radio telescope crashed in the early morning of December 1. Officials said the 900-tonne platform, made up of beams and radios suspended from towers atop the mountain, crashed into a 1,000-foot saucer located in the valley below. The collapse came two weeks after the National Science Foundation said the Arecibo Observatory was in danger of collapsing and should be demolished.

Astronomers and Puerto Rican residents asked for a fixobservatory, and not demolish it. More than 60,000 people signed a petition in defense of this unique radio telescope. However, experts from the Thornton Tomasetti engineering firm, which was supposed to carry out the repair work, assessed the condition of the observatory and concluded that the likelihood of another cable failure is too high to carry out any repair work.

Arecibo observatory staff believe that on December 1, one of the remaining suspension cables snapped, and a 900-ton instrument platform crashed into a saucer.

See also: Hurricane Maria seriously damaged the famous Arecibo radio telescope

The reason for the collapse was not immediately clear, but"Initial data indicates that the top section of all three support towers of the 305-meter telescope has broken off," the foundation said. “When the platform fell, the telescope support cables also fell. We are saddened by this situation, but grateful that no one was hurt, ”said the director of the Seturaman Panchanathan Foundation. Rico. " However, in scientific circles, according to the world-respected The New York Times, there is an opinion that the foundation could do more to save the observatory, and its destruction was not inevitable.

One way or another, the world forever says goodbye to Arecibo -observatory, which gave us invaluable knowledge about the solar system and the universe. Arecibo also left behind a rich cultural heritage, so you can look at what this radio telescope was like in the movie Contact, the Bond movie Golden Eye, and even in the X-Files episode titled Little Green Men at any time. ".