Arecibo Observatory collapses forward of deliberate demolition

The end is near for famed Arecibo Observatory's damaged telescope


It’s a last blow to probably the most highly effective telescopes on Earth that has aided astronomical discoveries for 57 years and withstood hurricanes, earthquakes and tropical storms.

The collapse occurred simply weeks after NSF introduced that the telescope could be decommissioned and disassembled via a managed demolition after sustaining irreparable injury earlier this yr.

“The instrument platform of the 305m telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico fell overnight. No injuries were reported. NSF is working with stakeholders to assess the situation. Our top priority is maintaining safety. NSF will release more details when they are confirmed,” in accordance with a tweet by the National Science Foundation.

“NSF is saddened by this development. As we move forward, we will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain our strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico,” the muse mentioned in one other tweet.

The spherical radio/radar telescope features a radio dish 1,000 toes throughout and a 900-ton instrument platform suspended 450 toes above it. Cables related to a few towers maintain the telescope in place.

An auxiliary cable got here free from a socket on one of many towers in August, making a 100-foot gash within the dish. Engineers have been assessing and dealing on a plan to restore the injury when one other fundamental cable on the tower broke on November 6.

When it broke, the cable crashed into the reflector dish under, inflicting further injury.

After the break on November 6, engineers inspected the remainder of the cables and found new breaks in addition to slippage from among the sockets on the towers. Multiple engineering firms reviewed the injury. They decided that the telescope may collapse as a result of it’s “in danger of catastrophic failure” and the cables have been weaker than anticipated.

The newest assessment revealed that injury to the telescope couldn’t be stabilized with out risking employees and the development group. This led to the NSF making the choice to decommission the telescope after 57 years.

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“We believe the structure will collapse in the near future if left untouched,” in accordance with a letter by engineering agency Thornton Tomasetti that assessed the observatory forward of the decommissioning announcement on November 19. “Controlled demolition, designed with a specific collapse sequence determined and implemented with the use of explosives, will reduce the uncertainty and danger associated with collapse.”

The agency additionally really helpful that this be carried out “as soon as pragmatically possible.”

Those plans have been underway when the telescope collapsed.

The NSF had deliberate to protect as a lot of the observatory because it may to permit the observatory to function a hub for analysis and schooling sooner or later, in addition to restoring operations on the observatory. There isn’t any phrase but on how this collapse impacts these plans or in the event that they have been capable of migrate the entire archival knowledge collected by the telescope to offsite servers.

Of curiosity is the LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) geospace analysis facility, the customer middle and the offsite Culebra facility for analyzing precipitation and cloud cowl knowledge.

A legacy of discoveries

Over the years, Arecibo Observatory has revealed new particulars about our planet’s ionosphere, the photo voltaic system and worlds past it.

The telescope has supported and contributed to necessary discoveries in radio astronomy in addition to planetary and photo voltaic system analysis, together with gravitational waves.

The Arecibo telescope performed a key function in discovering the primary planet outdoors our photo voltaic system and has helped astronomers determine doubtlessly hazardous asteroids en path to Earth.

Observations made by the telescope helped uncover the primary binary pulsar in 1974 (which led to the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics), supported NASA’s Viking mission, produced the primary radar maps of Venus’ floor and noticed the primary exoplanet in 1992.

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More just lately, Arecibo detected natural molecules in a distant galaxy and found the primary repeating quick radio burst.

The observatory, which was featured within the James Bond movie “GoldenEye,” was accomplished in 1963 and has been helmed by the NSF since 1970. It is operated and managed by a group on the University of Central Florida, the Universidad Ana G. Méndez and Yang Enterprises Inc.

The observatory is so beloved and important to science, there was even a Change.org petition to save lots of the observatory after the decommissioning was introduced. It had greater than 35,000 signatures.

“Arecibo has been an incredibly productive facility for nearly 60 years,” mentioned Jonathan Lunine, the David C. Duncan Professor within the Physical Sciences, and chair of the Department of Astronomy at Cornell University, in an announcement after the decommissioning was introduced.

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The telescope was designed and constructed by Cornell.

“For the Cornell scientists and engineers who took a daring dream and realized it, for the scientists who made new discoveries with this uniquely powerful radio telescope and planetary radar, and for all the young people who were inspired to become scientists by the sight of this enormous telescope in the middle of the island of Puerto Rico, Arecibo’s end is an inestimable loss.”

Scientists fear about initiatives that have been in progress utilizing the Arecibo telescope, in addition to what it means for future detections — particularly of asteroids that come close to Earth.

After the decommissioning was introduced, NASA made an announcement.

“The planetary radar capability at Arecibo, funded by NASA’s Near-Earth Object (NEO) Observations Program, has served as one of two major planetary radar capabilities. It has allowed NASA to fully characterize the precise orbits, sizes, and shapes of some NEOs passing within radar range after they are discovered by wide-field optical telescope survey projects.”

But NASA’s absolutely operational Goldstone Observatory in California can even have the ability to characterize these objects, “so NASA’s NEO search efforts are not impacted by the planned decommissioning of Arecibo’s 305m radio telescope.”

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