Second Cable Cutout at the Arecibo Telescope in Puerto Rico | Science
The already beaten Arecibo Observatory took another blow on November 7 when one of the twelve main support cables broke and the main dish of the radio telescope was torn apart. The accident comes only 3 months after another cable failed. Researchers are concerned that increased stress on the remaining cables may lead to cascading failure and collapse of the antenna platform suspended above the dish.
“It’s not a pretty picture,” says Joanna Rankin, a radio astronomer at the University of Vermont. “This is very dangerous.” Former director Donald Campbell, who currently works at Cornell University, says it is “without question” the worst accident for the observatory in its long history.
The 60-year-old telescope, which was built in a depression in the hills of Puerto Rico, is still appreciated by researchers. Its gigantic 307-meter-long plate – the largest in the world until overtaken by the five-hundred-meter-aperture spherical radio telescope in China in 2016 – makes it extremely sensitive. It is one of the few telescopes that has the ability not only to receive radio waves, but also to emit them, in the form of radar beams – helping researchers to track nearby asteroids that could threaten Earth.
The observatory It was damaged when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in 2017. Repairs continued in August when an additional 13 cm thick cable, one of the six conductors between three support towers and the antenna suspension platform, was Separate from the respective socket on the platform. Auxiliary cables were added in 1994 to deal with the extra weight of the new antennas added in the upgrade. Last month, University of Central Florida (UCF) that is leading A consortium runs the observatory, Applied for $ 10.5 million for emergency repairs from Arecibo owners, National Science Foundation (NSF)
The last break – 7:39 PM local time on Friday evening – was in one of the main support cables 9 centimeters thick. Four such cables run from each of the support towers to a 900-ton platform. Both failed cables were connected to the same tower, so the remaining cables were subjected to significant additional stress. “The forces are getting scary,” says Robert Kerr, former Arecibo manager.
“We are monitoring the situation and are considering all possible options to accelerate the stability of the structure,” NSF said in a statement. Our top priority is the health and safety of Arecibo employees. ” The consortium led by UCF took over running the observatory as part of an effort from NSF To reduce its financing of old facilities by finding new partners to bear some of the costs. Savings were needed to pay for operating costs of new facilities still under construction. NSF has yet to say whether it will pay for the required UCF repairs – or any additional costs incurred due to a recent cable outage. But Campbell says the overall impression is that NSF has been “very supportive since the first cable cut”.
Kerr says there has been a lot of accusations and suggestions that managers have not kept up with the maintenance of the old facility. He adds that the tooling added in 1994 created additional pressures for which the chassis was not originally designed. “There were a lot of steps to where we are,” he says.
Rankin says Arecibo is important to many areas, and it would be a “big loss” if it weren’t repairable. “Its sensitivity is much greater than any other tool and it is more flexible,” she says. Campbell says he has an amazing array of capabilities, “from the stratosphere to the ends of the universe.” It would be a colossal shame if that was lost. ”