Damaged Giant Radio Telescope at Arecibo Observatory Deemed Beyond Repair

22 Novembre, 2020, 01:24 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • The Arecibo Observatory dish surrounded by forest

An auxiliary cable broke in August and tore a 100-foot hole in the reflector dish and damaged the dome above it.

The decommissioning plan focuses only on the 305-meter telescope and is meant to safely preserve other parts of the observatory that could be damaged or destroyed in the event of an unplanned, catastrophic collapse, NSF said.

Nestled in the humid forests of Arecibo, the Puerto Rican observatory's vast structure had been used by scientists and astronomers around the world for decades to analyze distant planets, find potentially hazardous asteroids and hunt for signatures of extraterrestrial life.

The telescope has been in operation for 57 years.

"Although it saddens us to make this recommendation, we believe the structure should be demolished in a controlled way as soon as pragmatically possible".

The NSF reviewed multiple assessments by independent engineering companies and concluded that the telescope structure was "in danger of a catastrophic failure" and its cables may no longer be capable of carrying the loads they were created to support.

Last week, one of the telescope's main steel cables that was capable of sustaining 544,000 kilograms snapped under only 283,000 kilograms. An assessment by the engineering firm of Thornton Tomasetti has determined that the radio dish and its 900-ton instrument platform are too unstable to be safely repaired. "It is therefore our recommendation to expeditiously plan for decommissioning of the observatory and execute a controlled demolition of the telescope".

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Ralph Gaume, director of NSF's astronomy division, said at the briefing the agency wants to preserve other instruments at the site, as well as the visitor and outreach center.

"For almost six decades, the Arecibo Observatory has served as a beacon for breakthrough science and what a partnership with a community can look like", Panchanathan said. It has lasted for almost 57 years and provided valuable insights for many scientists across the world.

In the 1970s, it was used to beam a message about Earth and humanity into space, along with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory at Green Bank, West Virginia through a NASA program called Microwave Observing Program (MOP).

The telescope is one of the largest in the world and has been a tool for many astronomical discoveries.

"What I love the most about working with Arecibo is how it is a community institution; it has broadened Puerto Rican participation in science in immeasurable ways", says Puerto Rican astronomer Kevin Ortiz Ceballos via Twitter, and one of many whose admiration for the observatory inspired them to study the stars.

"I was hoping against hope that they would come up with some kind of solution to keep it open", he said. The Arecibo Observatory Amateur Radio Club, KP4AO, is headquartered at the research facility, and several radio amateurs are employed there. The cables were created to support a 900-ton platform 450 feet above the dish.



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