Hubble telescope witnesses ‘very weird’ fast fade of Stingray nebula

Hubble’s observations of the Stingray nebula in 1996 and 2016 show the dramatic changes in the glowing gases. 


NASA, ESA, B. Balick (University of Washington), M. Guerrero (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía), and G. Ramos-Larios (Universidad de Guadalajara)

In a universe where processes are often measured in millions and billions of years, the Hubble Space Telescope witnessed something extraordinary over the course of just two decades. The Stringray nebula went from bright in 1996 to faded in 2016, as if it had been left hanging on a cosmic drying line.

Stingray, more formally known as Hen 3-1357, was hailed as the youngest known planetary nebula when it was first noticed. The nebula formed during the star’s end of life when it ejected glowing gases that gave it a marine-animal-like shape. 

What’s so wild about the nebula is the radical makeover it has gone through in such a short amount of time. “Changes like this have never been captured at this clarity before,” NASA said in a statement on Thursday, calling it “a rare look at a rapidly fading shroud of gas around an aging star.”

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) jointly operate Hubble. Astronomers are taking notice of what both agencies described as “unprecedented” changes. The nebula had been emitting lots of nitrogen (red), hydrogen (blue) and oxygen (green), which gave it its distinct shape and glow in the original image. 

“This is very, very dramatic, and very weird,” said Hubble team member Martín Guerrero of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Spain. “What we’re witnessing is a nebula’s evolution in real time.” 

The culprit is likely the central star inside the nebula, which experienced a rapid rise in heat followed by a cooling phase. It seems Hubble got lucky with taking the images when it captured a before-and-after view of the nebula’s wild swing. At this rate, NASA estimates it may be barely detectable within just a few decades. 

NASA’s Hubble Twitter account hopped on the “How it started/How it’s going” meme with the before and after images of the nebula.

Despite being in orbit for an impressive 30 years, Hubble continues to feed us incredible cosmic discoveries, from soul-wrenching views of the distant universe to gorgeous portraits of Jupiter

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Photos show the Arecibo telescope before and after collapse

  • The Arecibo Observatory’s radio telescope collapsed Tuesday morning, when its 900-ton suspended platform crashed into the enormous dish below.
  • Arecibo was one of Earth’s best radio astronomy tools for 57 years. Its death is a blow to asteroid-tracking efforts and the hunt for alien life.
  • Photos of the iconic telescope show what it looked like before and after the crash.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The Arecibo Observatory’s enormous radio telescope collapsed on Tuesday morning. Its 900-ton platform crashed into the 1,000-foot-side disk below, yanking down the tops of three support towers as it fell. 

The demise was not entirely a surprise. After the telescope suffered two cable breaks in August and November, the National Science Foundation, which owns the telescope, determined it was too structurally unsound for workers to repair safely. The Foundation decommissioned the Puerto Rico telescope in late November, and engineers were working to figure out how to deconstruct it. But the platform crashed before that work could progress.

arecibo telescope collapse thumb  2x1

Juxtaposed screen grabs from a video taken by the Arecibo Observatory show the telescope’s platform as it fell.

Courtesy of the Arecibo Observatory, a US National Science Foundation facility


“Friends, it is with deep regret to inform you that the Arecibo Observatory platform has just collapsed,” Deborah Martorell, a meteorologist in Puerto Rico, tweeted in Spanish on Tuesday morning.

Before the crash, the telescope’s massive platform hung 450 feet in the air above its giant bowl-shaped disk. The disk reflected radio waves from space to instruments on the suspended platform.

arecibo observatory puerto rico

The Arecibo Observatory in 2012. The Gregorian Dome hangs over the 1,000-foot reflector dish.


Universal Images Group via Getty Images



But on Tuesday morning, cables that connected the platform to one of the towers snapped, sending it plummeting down.

Jonathan Friedman, who has worked on the Arecibo Observatory’s scientific staff since 1993, told local news outlet NotiCentro the collapse sounded like the rumble of an earthquake, a train, or an avalanche.

arecibo observatory damage platform receiver crash

The 900-ton platform crashed into the Arecibo telescope’s main dish on December 1, 2020.


Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images



A life spent hunting asteroids and starring in movies

Since it was completed in 1963, the Arecibo telescope has played a role in some of humanity’s most exciting findings about space.

It discovered the first known planet beyond our solar system, sent out powerful broadcasts for potential aliens to intercept, and tracked potentially hazardous asteroids to see whether they could hit Earth. 

It even helped scientists confirm Einstein’s theory of general relativity by detecting the first binary pulsar: a highly magnetized, compact star orbiting another star.

Arecibo also enabled researchers to hunt for radio waves from potential alien technology. The only other radio telescope that equals Arecibo’s former power is China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Radio Telescope (FAST).  

The telescope’s scale and setting also led it to a life onscreen: It starred in the 1995 James Bond film “GoldenEye” and the 1997 movie “Contact,” starring Jodie Foster.

contact jodi foster arecibo telescope

Jodi Foster in the film “Contact,” which is based on a

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Exact moment of major Arecibo telescope collapse captured on video

Snap.



a metal fence: Exact moment of major Arecibo telescope collapse captured on video


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Exact moment of major Arecibo telescope collapse captured on video

The legendary 1,000-foot-wide Arecibo Observatory’s telescope, a giant dish embedded in the verdant Puerto Rico forest, experienced a major collapse on Dec. 1. A 900-ton platform suspended over the observatory fell, destroying much of the already crumbling dish. On Wednesday, the U.S. National Science Foundation released footage of the collapse:

  • At 10 seconds into the video below, a camera affixed to a tower captures a cable snapping, and then the platform falls. Dust soon rises from the destruction. 

  • Just after the one-minute mark, a drone was in opportunistic position to film cables violently snapping from a support tower. 

The collapse was a dramatic end for the historic observatory. “I feel sick in my stomach,” Ramon Lugo, a former NASA engineer who manages Arecibo for the National Science Foundation, told Science the morning of the collapse. “Truthfully, it was a lot of hard work by a lot of people trying to restore this facility. It’s disappointing we weren’t successful. It’s really a hard morning.” 

Credit: Courtesy of the Arecibo Observatory, a U.S. National Science Foundation facility 

In nearly 60 years of peering into space, the powerful Arecibo Observatory, and its astronomers, made legendary discoveries. Arecibo spotted the first-ever exoplanet (a planet beyond our solar system) and the first organic molecules in a galaxy 250 million light-years away, supported Nobel Prize winning-research, and detected around 100 near-Earth asteroids (some that could potentially pose a danger to Earth) each year.

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Famously, Arecibo also scoured the skies for signals from intelligent alien life. (We haven’t received any signals, that we’re aware of, yet.)

The National Science Foundation knew the observatory was in dire straits. Just 12 days before the collapse, the organization announced plans to decommission the telescope, as it had fallen into a dangerous state of disrepair. The organization had reduced funding for the aging observatory as it looked for outside financial partners.

Meanwhile, nature gradually degraded the structure: Earthquakes and infamous Hurricane Maria damaged the aging telescope. Then in August 2020, the first cable broke, leaving a telltale 100-foot gash in the radar dish. 

More cables would soon fail.

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Video: Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico collapses after cables snap

The second-largest radio telescope in the world collapsed on Tuesday morning.

The Arecibo Observatory’s 900-ton platform, which sent and received radio waves and was suspended 450 feet in the air, crashed into the 1,000-foot-wide disk below. When it fell, it pulled down with the tops of three surrounding support towers.

Videos of the crash show that it began when cables that connected the hanging platform to one of the towers snapped. Previously, an auxiliary cable on that same tower broke in August, then one of its main cables broke in November. Since then, the National Science Foundation, which owns Arecibo, had been rushing to disassemble the telescope, since it was clear a complete collapse was possible.

But the platform fell before engineers made much headway in the deconstruction process.

Jonathan Friedman, who has been part of the Arecibo Observatory’s scientific staff since 1993, told local news outlet NotiCentro the collapse sounded like the rumble of an earthquake, a train, or an avalanche.

The video below, captured from a nearby control tower, shows the platform falling at 7:54 a.m. local time. A cable takes out the catwalk that allowed engineers to access the platform. The top of the tower where the cables broke, visible in the background, then falls. Then the top of another broken tower comes rolling down the hillside on the left.

“As you can see, this was a very violent and kind of unpredictable failure,” Ashley Zauderer, NSF program manager for the Arecibo Observatory, said in a briefing on Thursday.

In a separate video, drone footage shows the cables snapping and the resulting crash from above. The drone happened to be doing reconnaissance over the telescope’s platform at that moment, since drone surveillance was a key source of information for engineers trying to figure out how to deconstruct the telescope. Due to the known risk of collapse, nobody had been allowed to approach the unstable structure since the fateful cable break in mid-November.

arecibo observatory telescope collapse drone footage



Courtesy of the Arecibo Observatory, a US National Science Foundation facility


The vicinity around the dish and the three towers had been cordoned off, so nobody was injured in the collapse, the NSF said.

A inevitable collapse

Arecibo’s downward spiral began in August, when a 3-inch-thick auxiliary cable popped out of its socket on one of the telescope’s three towers and crashed into the dish. It tore a 100-foot gash in the panels.

Arecibo observatory cable fall Dish Damage

A hole in the 1,000-foot-wide reflector dish of the Arecibo Observatory, torn when a cable fell on August 10, 2020.

Arecibo Observatory


Then the second failure, a snapped main cable, surprised the telescope’s managers in November. An engineering assessment afterward found that the remaining cables were liable to break at any time and send the platform tumbling.

Since the structure was too unstable to save without risk of it collapsing on technicians while they worked on the repairs, the NSF decided to say goodbye to Arecibo, decommissioning the world’s most iconic radio telescope.

arecibo observatory telescope dish hole cable failure

An aerial view

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Hubble telescope spots Stingray nebula undergoing ‘very weird’ fast fade

Hubble’s observations of the Stingray nebula in 1996 and 2016 show the dramatic changes in the glowing gases. 


NASA, ESA, B. Balick (University of Washington), M. Guerrero (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía), and G. Ramos-Larios (Universidad de Guadalajara)

In a universe where processes are often measured in millions and billions of years, the Hubble Space Telescope witnessed something extraordinary over the course of just two decades. The Stringray nebula went from bright in 1996 to faded in 2016, like it had been left hanging on a cosmic drying line.

Stingray, more formally known as Hen 3-1357, was hailed as the youngest known planetary nebula when it was first noticed. The nebula formed during the star’s end of life when it ejected glowing gases that gave it a marine-animal-like shape. 

What’s so wild about the nebula is the radical makeover it has gone through in such a short amount of time. “Changes like this have never been captured at this clarity before,” NASA said in a statement on Thursday, calling it “a rare look at a rapidly fading shroud of gas around an aging star.”

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) jointly operate Hubble. Astronomers are taking notice of what both agencies described as “unprecedented” changes. The nebula had been emitting lots of nitrogen (red), hydrogen (blue) and oxygen (green), which gave it its distinct shape and glow in the original image. 

“This is very, very dramatic, and very weird,” said Hubble team member Martín Guerrero of the Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía in Spain. “What we’re witnessing is a nebula’s evolution in real time.” 

The culprit is likely the central star inside the nebula, which experienced a rapid rise in heat followed by a cooling phase. It seems Hubble got lucky with taking the images when it captured a before-and-after view of the nebula’s wild swing. At this rate, NASA estimates it may be barely detectable within just a few decades. 

NASA’s Hubble Twitter account hopped on the “How it started/How it’s going” meme with the before and after images of the nebula.

Despite being in orbit for an impressive 30 years, Hubble continues to feed us incredible cosmic discoveries, from soul-wrenching views of the distant universe to gorgeous portraits of Jupiter

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Gaia space telescope measures solar system’s acceleration

Gaia space telescope measures solar system's acceleration
The image shows the apparent motion of 3000 randomly selected, distant quasars caused by the acceleration of our solar system. For each quasar an arrow indicates the direction in which it is accelerated. Note how the motions appear to converge towards a point just below right of the direction to the centre of the Milky Way, which is in the image centre. The background shows Gaia’s all-sky view of our Milky Way Galaxy and neighbouring galaxies, based on the data released in the new EDR3 Gaia catalogue. Credit: ESA/Gaia/DPAC / CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO

The measurement of the acceleration of our solar system by astronomers of TU Dresden is a scientific highlight of the third Gaia catalog, which is now being released. With its publication on December 3, 2020, at 12:00 , the public will have access to high-precision astronomical data, such as positions, velocities, magnitudes and colors of about 1.8 billion astronomical objects.


What is Gaia? The aim of the ESA mission, launched on December 19, 2013, is nothing less than to produce a three-dimensional map of all astronomical objects that can be detected by the satellite’s 1000 megapixel camera—an impressive average of three million stars per hour. The observations are so accurate that Gaia could trace a motion of only a few centimeters for objects that are as far away as the Moon. An international team of scientists generates scientifically usable results from this enormous amount of observational data. This calculation, the iterative solution of a huge system of equations with 10 billion unknowns, has kept supercomputers in several European research institutions busy since 2015. Among those, TU Dresden’s high performance computers were heavily demanded by Prof. Klioner’s team to produce the numerous interim solutions which finally resulted in decisive improvements of the new Gaia products.

The excellent quality of these results enabled the scientists in Dresden to detect a highly interesting phenomenon: The acceleration of our solar system. In astronomy, it has been known for a while that such an acceleration causes a slow, apparent displacement of all astronomical objects, which should become noticeable as a global pattern in the measured motions. However, for nearby stars, this effect is completely superposed by the complex structure and dynamics of our galaxy.

Only a precise measurement of extremely distant astronomical objects, so-called quasars, could reveal this acceleration effect. These extremely luminous nuclei of distant galaxies are considered to be almost fixed on the sky, which is why they are used in astronomy as reference points.

The Dresden team identified about 1.6 million Gaia objects to be quasars, which will now be published as a Gaia own celestial reference system. These quasars clearly show the expected motion pattern of the extremely small acceleration, which, according to the results produced in Dresden, is 0.23 nanometers per second squared. It is the first time that this detection is obtained using optical observations. Professor Klioner explains:

“Measuring the acceleration of the solar system with a relative precision of 7 percent is a very

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Massive Arecibo Telescope Collapses in Puerto Rico | Smart News

On Tuesday, the radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsed, ending its nearly 60 years of operation, reports Dánica Coto for the Associated Press (AP).

The collapse saw a 900-ton equipment platform fall from more than 400 feet up and crash into the northern part of the telescope’s 1,000-foot-wide dish, per the AP. The National Science Foundation (NSF), which manages the facility, announced that no injuries have been reported.

This final death knell for Arecibo’s telescope, which tracked asteroids approaching Earth and searched the heavens for habitable planets, followed other serious damages to the massive observatory and weeks of discussion about its future.

In August, an auxiliary cable slipped from its socket and slashed a 100-foot fissure in the observatory’s reflector dish. Then, in early November, one of the main support cables responsible for holding the equipment platform above the reflector dish snapped, placing the entire structure at significant risk of an “uncontrolled collapse,” reports Bill Chappell for NPR.

These damages prior to the total collapse led to NSF determining that the telescope could not be safely repaired, and an announcement that Arecibo’s telescope would be withdrawn from service and dismantled.

When the observatory first closed after August’s damages, about 250 scientists around the world were still using it, according to the AP. For these scientists and for those who spent many years of their lives working with the astronomical instrument in the lush mountains of Puerto Rico, its sudden destruction exacts an emotional toll.

Jonathan Friedman, a researcher who worked at the observatory for 26 years and still lives nearby, tells the AP what he heard at the moment of the collapse: “It sounded like a rumble. I knew exactly what it was. I was screaming. Personally, I was out of control… I don’t have words to express it. It’s a very deep, terrible feeling.”

“It’s such an undignified end,” Catherine Neish, an astrobiologist at Western University in London, Ontario, tells Maria Cramer and Dennis Overbye of the New York Times. “That’s what’s so sad about it.”

The telescope even achieved some level of renown among laypeople following its inclusion in popular movies such as “Contact” and the James Bond film “Goldeneye.”

Constructed in the early 1960s, the Arecibo telescope used radio waves to probe the farthest reaches of the universe. Among its most notable accomplishments is the first detection of a binary pulsar in 1974, per NPR. The discovery supported Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity and eventually garnered the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics for a pair of researchers.

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The Arecibo Observatory Is More Than Just a Telescope

As long as humans have existed, we have watched the stars. By the 20th century, we were curious about signals from stars we couldn’t actually see. But they were difficult to detect. Radio waves travel across the galaxy and are scrambled by all the noise of modern life: garage door openers, satellite TV, and radio stations. But what if you could build the biggest dish on earth to catch those faint signals, in a place that was quiet and remote, somewhere far to the south so the dish would sweep as much of the sky as possible as the Earth rotated? That was the dream that built Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory, which collapsed earlier this week. Until recently, it was the world’s largest radio telescope, and it remained unsurpassed in sensitivity.

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Joanna Rankin is professor emerita of astronomy and physics at the University of Vermont and a pulsar expert who has used the Arecibo Observatory since 1969. Mary Fillmore is a writer who has accompanied her there for more than 30 years.

In the 57 years since its construction, the remote observatory has been a primary world center for radio astronomy. It wildly outperformed its original purposes as well as the broader and deeper possibilities that two upgrades allowed, one in 1972–74 and another in 1994–98. Arecibo’s uniquely powerful radar has mapped planets, helped to guide spacecraft to the edges of the solar system, and pinpointed the positions of asteroids that might one day impact Earth. It has probed our planet’s upper atmosphere, searched for extraterrestrial intelligence, and enabled us to understand far more about pulsars, the failed black holes that send rhythmic radio signals like lighthouses.

In August 2020, one of the 18 cables that suspended 900 tons of instruments above the huge reflector dish broke. The National Science Foundation ordered a new cable. But when a second one broke on November 6, the agency consulted engineers and decided on a “controlled demolition” of the observatory.

Some have questioned whether more should have been done immediately to stabilize the telescope, but that possibility was foreclosed when the hundreds of tons of instruments crashed into the observatory’s dish on December 1. (The observatory did, however, maintain its record of not losing a single life to an accident—despite maintenance people and others working on it from 500 feet in the air almost daily for decades.)

The damage is extensive. Judging from photographs alone, it may seem ridiculous to think of saving the observatory at this point—but it would be no more ridiculous than tearing it down. In the last several years, the University of Central Florida has been the NSF’s lead contractor to run the observatory. They have reinvigorated it in some key ways, with an entrepreneurial spirit that is needed now more than ever. The NSF promised Puerto Rico that it would return the site to its original condition if it ever closed the telescope. But what could be more absurd than to attempt to erase what

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On the same day China landed a probe on the moon, the US’s massive telescope in Puerto Rico collapsed



Left: China National Space Administration Right: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images


© Left: China National Space Administration Right: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images
Left: China National Space Administration Right: RICARDO ARDUENGO/AFP via Getty Images

  • On the same day that China collected lunar rocks in a groundbreaking space mission, a critical US telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsed.
  • The observatory, built in 1963, was a beacon for US astronomical research, lasted through natural disasters, and inspired generations of Puerto Rican researchers.
  • China’s successful accomplishment with the Chang’e-5 probe is the first time since the 1970s that lunar samples have been collected, and if the spacecraft returns to Earth safely in mid-December, will mark a massive step forward in space exploration. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

On Tuesday, the United States and China experienced vastly different events in the world of space exploration and observation.

The Arecibo Observatory, a colossal telescope located in Puerto Rico, collapsed after deteriorating sharply since August. The Arecibo Observatory had been operating as a center for astronomical observations for 57 years. 

Meanwhile, far from the Earth’s atmosphere, the unmanned Chang’e-5 probe, a Chinese spacecraft, landed on the moon to bring lunar materials back to Earth for the first time in almost 50 years, the Chinese government announced.

China’s moon landing and retrieval of lunar rocks mark the first time a country has acquired sample materials from the moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 mission in 1976, according to NASA. 

US astronauts in NASA’s Apollo program last retrieved over 800 pounds of lunar samples between 1969 and 1972. 

Video: China successfully lands spacecraft on moon to retrieve lunar rocks (Reuters)

The two separate events on the same day show the stark contrast between China’s recent investment in space exploration and research and the US’s space efforts, which often have shifting budgets and priorities.

As Business Insider previously reported, there are myriad roadblocks to the US going back to the moon, including the cost of

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Arecibo Observatory Telescope Collapses, Ending An Era Of World-Class Research : NPR

Arecibo Observatory’s mammoth telescope collapsed overnight. It’s seen here in November, after a cable damaged its dish.

University of Central Florida


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University of Central Florida

Arecibo Observatory’s mammoth telescope collapsed overnight. It’s seen here in November, after a cable damaged its dish.

University of Central Florida

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has collapsed, after weeks of concern from scientists over the fate of what was once the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope. Arecibo’s 900-ton equipment platform, suspended 500 above the dish, fell overnight after the last of its healthy support cables failed to keep it in place.

No injuries were reported, according to the National Science Foundation, which oversees the renowned research facility.

“NSF is saddened by this development,” the agency said. “As we move forward, we will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain our strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico.”

The Arecibo Observatory had been slated last month to be withdrawn from service, with the NSF citing the risk of an “uncontrolled collapse” due to failures in the cables that suspended the platform and its huge Gregorian Dome above the 1,000-foot reflector dish.

Arecibo Observatory collapsed when its 900-ton receiver platform fell hundreds of feet, smashing through the radio dish below.

Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images


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Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

Arecibo Observatory collapsed when its 900-ton receiver platform fell hundreds of feet, smashing through the radio dish below.

Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images

The telescope’s trademark dish, nestled amid thick tropical forest, was left with a huge gash in August, after a cable fell and slashed through its panels. After a main cable snapped in early November, officials said they saw no way to safely preserve the unstable structure.

Instead, they were hoping to keep the visitors’ center and other buildings operational. But they also noted it would take weeks to work out the technical details of a plan.

Ángel Vázquez, the observatory’s director of telescope operations, says he was in the control room area when equipment began to plummet to the ground. In an interview that was posted to Twitter by scientist Wilbert Andrés Ruperto, Vázquez says he and other staff members had been in the process of removing valuable equipment when they heard a loud bang outside.

“When we looked outside the control room, we started to see the eventual downfall of the observatory,” Vázquez said. He added that strands of the remaining three cables had been unraveling in recent days, increasing the strain. And because two of the support towers maintained tension as the collapse occurred, some of the falling equipment was yanked across the side of the dish rather than falling straight down through its focal point.

“This whole process took 30 seconds,” Vázquez said, “and an unfortunate icon in radio astronomy was done.”

Vázquez said he has worked at the facility for 43 years, starting soon after college.

The massive reflector dish is made of perforated aluminum

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