Wednesday, 02 December, 2020


Fabled Arecibo Observatory to Be Shut Down After Twin Mishaps

A distant view from above the Arecibo telescope among mountains and forest Famed Arecibo telescope, on the brink of collapse, will be dismantled
Melba Vasquez | 21 November, 2020, 19:43

The Arecibo Observatory will close down - and its enormous structure dismantled - after 57 years, following two mishaps that left it on the brink of collapse.

Cable anchoring structure for the Northern support tower, Arecibo radio telescope. An auxiliary cable broke in August and tore a 100-foot hole in the reflector dish and damaged the dome above it.

The damage on the Arecibo Observatory. "The telescope is in no way obsolete", Christopher Salter, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in West Virginia, who worked at Arecibo for years, told Nature.

Officials suspect a potential manufacturing error is to blame for the auxiliary cable that snapped after a socket holding it failed, but say they are surprised that a main cable broke about three months later given that it was supporting only about 60% of its capacity.

An update was provided on october 12 with no culprit of what caused the auxiliary cable to fail - UCF outlined what had been done to date to fix the cable which included a complete safety assessment, shipping the socket involved in the failure to NASA Kennedy Space Center for further evaluation, and completing a review for a possible fix plan. The possibility of an additional cable snapping could mean the platform might not hold and could collapse into the telescope's dish.

Inspections of other cables revealed breaks and slippages as well. Scientists across the globe even used the radio telescope to search for extraterrestrial life on many occasions. For this reason, the authorities have chose to demolish the structure as it can put the lives of workers at risk.

Wreckage is seen in a wide gash in the dish of the Arecibo telescope littered with foliage and overgrowth
The support cables fell and ripped large gashes in the telescope's reflector dish

In a statement, Sean Jones, assistant director of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate at NSF said, "NSF has concluded that this recent damage to the 305-metre telescope can not be addressed without risking the lives and safety of work crews and staff. NSF has chose to begin the process of planning for a controlled decommissioning of the 305-meter telescope".

"The telescope is at serious risk of an unexpected, uncontrolled collapse", said Ralph Gaume, director of NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences. "Even attempts at stabilization or testing the cables could result in accelerating the catastrophic failure".

The topic was also trending on Twitter with many people from the scientific community remembering their Association with the iconic telescope. Thornton Tomasetti's model suggested there was no course of action that could safely verify the structure's stability and advised against allowing personnel on the telescope's platforms or towers.

The Arecibo message as sent 1974 from the Arecibo Observatory.

UCF hired two other engineering companies to provide independent assessments of the telescope.

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