The death of an icon. Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, one of the world’s most iconic telescopes, is to be decommissioned due to damage caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017.
The National Science Foundation determined the 57-year-old, 1,000-foot diameter radio telescope’s structure was in danger of “catastrophic failure and its cables may no longer be capable of carrying the loads they were designed to support.”
“Over its lifetime, Arecibo Observatory has helped transform our understanding of the ionosphere, showing us how density, composition and other factors interact to shape this critical region where Earth’s atmosphere meets space,” said Michael Wiltberger, head of NSF’s Geospace Section.
“While I am disappointed by the loss of investigative capabilities, I believe this process is a necessary step to preserve the research community’s ability to use Arecibo Observatory’s other assets and hopefully ensure that important work can continue at the facility.”
It was also the filming location for the James Bond thriller “Goldeneye.”
Morning sky: Venus is still very bright rising about 2 hours before the Sun. You can’t miss her as she will be the brightest object in the morning sky. Mercury is visible with binoculars or a telescope in the early December morning sky but will be low above the horizon. He passes behind the Sun on December 20th.
Evening sky: Mars dominates the eastern sky. Look for a very bright red “star” halfway up from due south just after sunset. This is good time to see surface details on Mars because of how close it is to the Earth. Jupiter and Saturn are up in the south-southwest at sunset. Both are positioned for viewing but are slowly making their way towards the western horizon and into the Sun’s glare. Watch as Jupiter gets closer to Saturn from day to day and will culminate with the two gas giants being really close together on December 21st. Uranus is visible, but you’ll need a star chart and dark skies to find him.
Due to the coronavirus there will be no public viewings scheduled this month. If things change, we’ll post it on TAS’s events calendar (see below).
3rd: Moon near bright star Pollux in Gemini the Twins in the late evening sky.
8th: Last quarter Moon.
10th: Thin crescent Moon near bright star Spica in Virgo the Virgin in the morning sky.
12th: Very thin crescent Moon very close to Venus in the very early morning sky.
13th – 14th: Geminid meteor shower peaks.
14th: New Moon.
21st: Jupiter and Saturn in conjunction in the west at sunset. They will be VERY close together – a Kodak moment. Winter solstice – the longest night of the year for the Northern Hemisphere. First quarter Moon.
23rd: Moon near Mars in the evening sky.
26th: Moon between two star clusters, the Hyades and the Pleiades in the evening sky.
30th: Full Moon near bright star Pollux in Gemini the Twins in the late evening sky.
Check out TAS’s events calendar at www.stargazers.org.
Ken Kopczynski is president of the Tallahassee Astronomical Society, a local group of amateur astronomers. He is the recipient of the 2013 Partners in Excellence Award presented by the Big Bend/Leon Association.
Never miss a story: Subscribe to the Tallahassee Democrat using the link at the top of the page.