Arecibo Observatory telescope collapses in Puerto Rico months after cables snap

02 Décembre, 2020, 00:23 | Auteur: Therese Cote
  • Huge, already damaged radio telescope collapses in Puerto Rico

"We can confirm the platform fell and that we have reports of no injuries". NSF is working with stakeholders to assess the situation. The National Science Foundation, which owns the observatory that is managed by the University of Central Florida, said crews who evaluated the structure after the first incident determined that the remaining cables could handle the additional weight.

Photographs showed the remains of the telescope instruments scattered across the site. The platform was suspended by cables connected to three towers.

The telescope's demise began in August of this year, when a socket holding one of the auxiliary cables suspending the 816 T receiver platform hanging over the dish failed, causing the cable to break.

However, observatory director Francisco Córdova, said that while the NSF decided it was too risky to fix the damaged cables before today's collapse, he believes there had been options, such as relieving tension in certain cables or using helicopters to help redistribute weight.

The NSF's original plan was to dismantle the site with "aims to retain as much as possible of the remaining infrastructure of Arecibo Observatory, so that it remains available for future research and educational missions". "I knew exactly what it was", said Jonathan Friedman, who worked for 26 years as a senior research associate at the observatory and still lives near it. "I was screaming. Personally, I was out of control". It's a very deep, awful feeling.

The NSF said it was "saddened" by the collapse and would be "looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain our strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico".

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The collapse wasn't a surprise because numerous wires in the thick cables holding the structure snapped over the weekend, Ángel Vázquez, the telescope's director of operations, told AP.

What is the history of the telescope?

The November 19, 2020, announcement that Arecibo would be decommissioned sent up an outcry in the world of astronomy, which has relied on the iconic telescope since it was built in 1963 with money from the U.S. Defense Department. But it was soon being used as an all-purpose radio observatory. A number of cosmic phenomena such as pulsars - magnetised, rotating stars - show emission at radio wavelengths.

Among the telescope's successes was in 1992 discovering the first exoplanet - a planet outside the solar system - and in 1981 it helped produce the first radar maps of the surface of Venus.

It has also been used to listen for signals from intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos and to track near-Earth asteroids.

It was also featured in two USA films, GoldenEye starring Pierce Brosnan as James Bond and released in 1995, and Contact, with actors Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey two years later.

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