Arecibo, a giant radio observatory located in the fertile mountains of Puerto Rico, has done some of the most dreamy work in astronomy. But it was forced to halt its operations this year after suffering unprecedented damage, and officials now believe it cannot be repaired. Instead of trying to fix it, they’ll demolish it.
The problem started in August. A metal support cable weighing thousands of pounds slipped out of its socket and fell into a 1,000-foot-wide cavernous radio dish at midnight.. The cable, installed in the 1990s, was considered somewhat new to an observatory that began operations in 1963, and the accident confused Arecibo hosts. « Certainly, the cable shouldn’t have failed the way it did, » Ashley Zoderer, Arecibo program director at the National Science Foundation, which owns the telescope, said during a press conference today.. .
By the time the sun rose the next day, the telescope had changed. The great Arecibo, where fictional astronomer Ellie Arroway scans the universe for unexplainable phenomena in Contact – and where countless true astronomers have done – is now like a collapsed set from a horrific disaster movie.
Officials were hoping to be able to repair the damage and come up with a plan. But earlier this month, just days before engineers were due to try to install the telescope, another piece of hardware appeared in the dish.. A main cable, one of the originals installed when building the observatory, was cut, causing further damage. Engineers recently checked the cable, and although they saw that some of its external wires had been torn, they believed it was strong enough to hang on.. « It was not seen as a direct threat, and I don’t think anyone understood that the cable had visibly degraded, » Zoderer said.. The problem is that this main cable was scheduled to be replaced this year.
The Arecibo Observatory is facing a “catastrophic, uncontrolled collapse,” Ralph Jaume, director of the astronomy division at the National Science Foundation, told reporters this morning.. The structure is so unstable that it is very dangerous for engineers to inspect it closely. “According to engineering assessments, even attempted installation or cable testing can accelerate catastrophic failure,” Gaume said.. Engineers fear more cables could break and crash into the dish.
Arecibo provided observations of discoveries within the solar system and beyond. It is considered a landmark in the field of SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and one of the best sites for studying potentially dangerous asteroids near Earth.
Over the years, Arecibo has built a reputation as a flexible enterprise; It faced danger and damage, but always withstood. In her lifetime, she has survived earthquakes and storms, including a hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, and that damaged some plate.. . This year, a month before the failure of the first cable predicting the fall of Arecibo, the observatory survived a tropical storm in silence and then regained its energy once the sky was clear, and it was ready to chase an asteroid as it crossed the Earth. Even after a second cable break this month, officials desperately wanted to save the telescope. « It’s just a very important tool for the advancement of science, » said Francisco Cordova, director of the observatory, at the time.. The expectation was that Arecibo would return.
Engineers are now working on a quick plan to demolish the telescope before it collapses on its own. Arecibo’s fate is different from what astronomers are accustomed to. Devices of all kinds of ages and intervals – Hubble, another popular telescope, is working with fewer working parts than it launched 30 years ago. But it’s unusual to destroy an observatory because you have no other choice, and unexpectedly too. Engineers have deliberately destroyed spacecraft before, such as Cassini, which fell into Saturn’s atmosphere, and Galileo, which met a similar end on Jupiter, but that farewell was planned.. The scholars had the opportunity to make their final observations and close the shop. The spacecraft was running out of fuel, and its scientific instruments quickly went silent. Their missions are over. It wasn’t Arecibo.
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Arecibo Observatory, Telescope, Radio Telescope, Astronomy, Observatory, National Science Foundation
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