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Arecibo Radio Observatory To Be Abandoned

PostPosted: November 20th, 2020, 4:44 am
by toucana

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.

Re: Arecibo Radio Observatory To Be Abandoned

PostPosted: December 1st, 2020, 7:59 pm
by Dave_C

Re: Arecibo Radio Observatory To Be Abandoned

PostPosted: December 1st, 2020, 8:15 pm
by toucana
The instrument platform of the 305-meter telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapsed overnight, according to the National Science Foundation.

It's a final blow to one of the most powerful telescopes on Earth that has aided astronomical discoveries for 57 years and withstood hurricanes, earthquakes and tropical storms.

Engineers assessed the damage and determined that all three of the telescope's support towers broke off, sending the 900-ton instrument platform plummeting down to the dish below. The telescope's support cables also dropped. The observatory's learning center was significantly damaged by the falling cables as well.

The collapse occurred just weeks after NSF announced that the telescope would be decommissioned and disassembled through a controlled demolition after sustaining irreparable damage earlier this year.

Re: Arecibo Radio Observatory To Be Abandoned

PostPosted: December 2nd, 2020, 11:03 am
by TheVat ... -rico.html

(some snippets from the article...)

The telescope beamed signals to and from space, an ability that made it possible to collect undiscovered details about planets in the solar system, Dr. Neish said.

One of its early feats, in 1967, was the discovery that the planet Mercury rotates in 59 days, not 88 as astronomers had originally thought.

Puerto Rico residents and astronomers had called on the foundation to repair the telescope rather than demolish it.

Before the collapse, nearly 60,000 people signed a petition urging federal agencies to find a way to stabilize the structure.

But Thornton Tomasetti, an engineering firm hired by the University of Central Florida to assess the telescope, said the likelihood of another cable failing was too high to justify repair work.

The foundation said it had authorized the university to continue paying members of the observatory’s staff. Many were working to repair other parts of the facility, including a nearly 40-foot telescope used for radio astronomy research.

Dr. Neish, the University of Western Ontario professor, said the loss of the telescope is not only devastating, it is also infuriating to scientists who believe the foundation could have done more to save it.
“It was not inevitable,” she said of the collapse. “If they had properly maintained it, it’s likely that wouldn’t have happened.”

Re: Arecibo Radio Observatory To Be Abandoned

PostPosted: December 3rd, 2020, 4:53 pm
by toucana

Re: Arecibo Radio Observatory To Be Abandoned

PostPosted: May 3rd, 2021, 9:46 pm
by TheVat
I've put off watching the collapse. Finally did, with this video from Scott Manley, which includes some slow-mo on the cables and explanations of how the failures happened. A recent article in The New Yorker has some more details on the unfortunate NSF decisions that led to the catastrophe, and possible plans to build a new dish on the site. ... -telescope