Aresibo telescope faces a catastrophic collapse, it must be dismantled

The world’s most prestigious astronomical observatories have fallen beyond repair. Now it is in danger of collapsing completely.

Following Two unexpected cable breaks, Engineers have determined that Aresibo Observatory’s 1,000-foot (305-meter) radio telescope is so structurally baseless that any workers who try to fix it will risk their lives. So the National Science Foundation, which owns the Puerto Rico Telescope, has decided to demotion it.

Now engineers are racing to figure out how to safely destroy one of the world’s largest radio telescopes before it collapses on its own. The structure is so unstable that engineers cannot even approach it to evaluate the risk and timing of such a collapse.

Ralph Gaume, director of the Division of Astronomical Sciences of the NSF, said in a press conference on Thursday morning, “Even the cable’s stabilization or testing efforts can accelerate catastrophic failure.”

‘It’s like losing someone important in your life’

In its 57-year lifespan, Aresibo Telescope has hunted dangerous near-Earth asteroids, discovered signs of alien life and discovered the first planet beyond our solar system. In 1974, Arecibo exited Most powerful broadcast Earth ever sent to communicate with potential aliens. In 2016, it first detected rapid radio bursts – mysterious space signals that scientists now think are coming From the dead stars.

But soon after the tricepore storm overpassed the island of Issyas in August, the havoc of Arecibo began. On one of the three towers of the telescope, a 3-inch thick auxiliary cable came out of its socket and Crashed down into the reflective dish. It ate a 100-foot gash in the panels.

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Arecibo Observatory cable kernel dish damage

A hole in the 1,000-foot-wide reflector dish at Arecibo Observatory, when a cable fell on August 10, 2020.

RCBo Observatory


Then in early November, just before the repairs began in Bayana, a 15,000-pound main cable broke from the same tower and crashed into the dish. Engineers thought the structure was still strong enough to survive a second disaster – and that the cable was carrying just 60% of its estimated load capacity – but the failure proved them wrong. They decided that they could no longer rely on any remaining cables.

Both were supporting a huge metal platform hanging on the failed cable dish. If another cable had failed from the same tower, the engineer would have found, the platform would have fallen with it.

“The entire 900-tonne platform would crash down into the main disc, and it’s possible that the three main towers themselves, which are more than 300 feet high, would fall to the top,” Gaume said.

Erisbo Observatory Puerto Rico

The Arecibo Observatory as seen in 2012. The platformer and the Gregorian Dome were hanging on the reflector dish.


Universal Image Group via Getty Images



Re-creating the telescope means leaving any chance of saving it, but it is a course of action recommended by three engineering firms.

“This decision is not easy for the NSF. But the safety of the people is our priority,” said Sean Jones, assistant director of the NSF’s Directorate of Mathematical and Physical Sciences.

Moving quickly, the NSF hopes to salvage a set of buildings, located directly beneath one of the telescope’s towers. In this way, the Arecibo Observatory can remain open – but without its defining feature.

“When I came to know of this news, I was completely devastated,” Abel Mendez, director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico, told Business Insider. He has been around the observatory when he was 10 years old and worked with it professionally for the past decade.

“It’s hard to take. It’s like losing an important person in your life. Yes, 2020 – it’s not good,” he said.

America has lost its best asteroid hunter and alien seeker

The loss of ERISBO’s telescope is a major setback for humanity’s quest for alien life, our ability to protect the planet from asteroids, and the entire field of radio astronomy.

Mendez said that although Arecibo does not discover potentially dangerous space rocks, it plays a key role in their investigation: the observatory uses radar to decrypt such objects for their size, rotation, surface characteristics, and trajectory through space. Can ping along.

Coast_Impact Asteroid

An artist’s depiction of asteroid impact occurred 65 million years ago that led to the disappearance of the dinosaurs.

Don Davis / NASA


Without that data, it is very difficult to know if an asteroid is moving towards Earth.

The Arecibo Observatory plans to work with scientists, Gaci said, who intend to use telescopes to find ways to move their research elsewhere, Gaume said. Other NSF facilities – the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Virginia and the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia – could potentially take on some Arecibo science.

However, Mendez said that green banks are only 10% to 20% vulnerable to weak radio signals. He therefore feels that the death of the telescope effectively ends the US opportunity in a comprehensive project to search for radio waves from foreign technology.

“The only place that we have to do something that would be as sensitive or more sensitive than Arecibo is now FAST in China,” Mendez said, referring to the five-hundred-meter aperture spherical radio telescope in Guizhou Province. “The United States lost all that capability because it does not contain arrecibo.”

Arceibo and Fast, Mendez said, were the Earth’s “two big eyes” in radio astronomy.

“If you are monitoring a source of interest that is in the weak radio spectrum, you need two large radio telescopes: one pointing to something during the day and the other through night time.” “If you lose Arecibo, you lose the ability to monitor – 24 hours a day – an unconscious source of radio signals.”

He said: “Now we have only one eye.”

‘We are working against the clock’

It will probably take about five or six weeks to figure out how to safely protect the Erisbo telescope. Engineers will assess their options from afar, with aerial photographs with drones.

Engineers are also considering ways to buy extra time, such as possibly bending the towers a few inches to reduce weight on the remaining cables.

“We’re working against the clock,” Gaume said.

A technical report spelling Aresibo’s death is given below.

If engineers could disassemble the telescope before destroying themselves, the RCBo Observatory would still be able to conduct some scientific research. Its LIDAR lasers can study Earth’s upper atmosphere and ionosphere. It is also a facility on the island of Culebra that collects data on cloud cover and rainfall.

Future researchers can still analyze data stored with binoculars.

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