Arecibo Radio Observatory To Be Abandoned

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Arecibo Radio Observatory To Be Abandoned

Postby toucana on November 20th, 2020, 4:44 am 


The world famous Arecibo observatory, a huge radio telescope nestled deep in the jungles of Puerto Rico is to be abandoned to its fate and allowed to collapse after suffering two destructive mishaps within the last few months.

Operations at the Arecibo observatory, one of the largest in the world, were halted in August when one of its supportive cables slipped loose from its socket, falling and gashing a 30-metre (100ft) hole in its 305m-wide (1,000ft) reflector dish.

Another cable then broke earlier this month, tearing a new hole in the dish and damaging nearby cables as engineers scrambled to devise a plan to preserve the crippled structure.

The accidents at the site – also famed as the setting for James Bond movie GoldenEye, as well as Contact starring Jodie Foster – prompted the US National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent government agency, to call time on the facility.

“NSF has concluded that this recent damage to the 305m telescope cannot be addressed without risking the lives and safety of work crews and staff,” Sean Jones, assistant director of the mathematical and physical sciences directorate at NSF, said on Thursday.

“NSF has decided to begin the process of planning for a controlled decommissioning,” Jones said.

An engineering firm hired by the University of Central Florida, which manages the observatory for NSF under a five-year $20m agreement, concluded in a report to the university last week “that if an additional main cable fails, a catastrophic collapse of the entire structure will soon follow”.

Citing safety concerns, the firm ruled out efforts to repair the observatory and recommended a controlled demolition.

The observatory’s vast reflector dish and a 816-tonne structure hanging 137m above it, situated in the humid forests of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, had been used by scientists and astronomers around the world for decades to analyse distant planets, find potentially hazardous asteroids and hunt for signatures of extraterrestrial life.

The sad story of the demise of the Arecibo observatory is emblematic of a recent history of chronic neglect and underfunding by US scientific agencies on the one hand, and of the ongoing catastrophic effects of Hurricane Maria which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.

Critics point out that it is over 1152 days since Puerto Rico even had a full working electrical supply system.

Their electrical grid system of the territory was destroyed by the hurricane, and was never properly restored thanks in part to a controversial and bungled repair program.

The Arecibo observatory which was completed in 1963 was the world’s largest single aperture telescope for over 50 years, until the Five Hundred Meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) also known as Tianyan (天眼, - ‘The Eye of Heaven’) opened in Guizhou in southwest China in July 2016.
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