The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico that was built 50 years ago, and is used by scientists around the world for its ability to receive and send signals millions of light years, broke.
November 10, 2020 Share on FacebookShare Share on TwitterTweet Share on WhatsAppShare
Operations at the UCF-run Arecibo Observatory (shown here spring 2019) are halted as engineers assess new damage (UFC)
The Arecibo Observatory, built 50 years ago, has one of the most powerful radio telescopes on the planet: the diameter of the main antenna is 305 meters and it has a 900-ton receiver that is located about 130 meters high.
The instruments of this observatory, located in Puerto Rico, are used by scientists around the world to conduct research in the areas of atmospheric sciences, planetary sciences, radio astronomy, and radar astronomy. Arecibo is also home to a team leading the Planetary Radar Project supported by NASA's Near-Earth Object Observations Program. A bet to find extraterrestrial intelligence thanks to the radio telescope's ability to send and receive signals millions of light years away
On November 8, a holding cable broke, causing extensive damage to the radio telescope plate, which already suffered another similar incident in August. Unlike the auxiliary cable that failed in August, this main cable did not come off its anchor. It broke and fell onto the reflector plate below, also damaging other cables, the University of Central Florida, which manages the facility, reported in a statement.
Both cables were connected to the same support tower. No one was injured and engineers are working to determine the best way to stabilize the structure. A security zone has been established around the plate as a precaution and only personnel necessary to respond to the incident may enter the venue.
Authorities have not determined why the main cable broke, but suspect it is related to the additional load carried by the remaining cables since August. A monitoring team has been keeping a close eye on all cables and the platform since then as part of the facility's temporary repair and safety plan.
In the image, the radio telescope of the Arecibo Observatory, in Puerto Rico. EFE / Thais Llorca / Archive
Observers had noticed and were tracking broken cables in the main cable that failed on Friday. The facility was expecting a team of engineers this week who were expected to begin temporary emergency repairs related to the August incident.
“This is certainly not what we wanted to see, but the important thing is that no one was injured,” said Francisco Córdova, director of the observatory. “We have been thoughtful in our assessment and prioritized safety in planning the repairs that were supposed to begin Tuesday. Now this. There is a lot of uncertainty until we can stabilize the structure. You have our full attention. We are evaluating the situation with our experts and hope to have more to share soon. ”
The team hopes to be able to reduce the stress on the existing cables in the tower and install steel reinforcements to temporarily relieve some of the additional load that is being distributed among the remaining cables. Experts are being mobilized to get the job done as quickly as possible. The team will try to speed up the arrival of two new cables that were already ordered. That is the current plan pending further evaluation, which will take place over the next few days.
Since the August incident, engineers have been working to determine the cause of the initial failure and create temporary and long-term repair plans. Because there was no obvious cause for the breakdown, the complexities of such a large and unique structure that was built in the 1960s, and the need to prioritize safety above all else, the development of an emergency repair plan temporary has taken some time. The implementation of the first repairs was scheduled to begin next week
“This is not good, but we remain committed to bringing the facility back online,” Cordova said. “It is too important a tool for the advancement of science.”
Although the facility has suspended most of its operations since the August incident, investigators continue to use the data already collected by Arecibo to further their investigation . The facility has withstood many hurricanes, tropical storms, and earthquakes since it was built more than 50 years ago. Regardless, the facility has continued to contribute to major advances in space research in the area of gravitational waves, asteroid characterization, planetary exploration, and more.
(With information from Portaltic)