Tuesday, 15 June, 2021

Close the large Puerto Rico radio telescope

The famous Arecibo telescope that starred in the James Bond film to be demolished Famed Arecibo telescope, on the brink of collapse, will be dismantled
Cecil Davis | 21 November, 2020, 19:39

© Provided by Associated Press FILE - This July 13, 2016 file photo shows one of the largest single-dish radio telescopes at the Arecibo Observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. "Engineers can not tell us the safety margin of the structure, but they have advised NSF that the structure will collapse in the near future on its own". It is expected to take several weeks of planning before decommissioning will begin.

The facility has been operating for 57 years but now is being planned for a controlled demolition. After an auxiliary cable broke in August and a main cable at the beginning of this month, NSF had engineering assessments completed.

"Although it saddens us to make this recommendation, we believe the structure should be demolished in a controlled way as soon as pragmatically possible, " said the recommendation for action letter submitted by Thornton Tomasetti, one of the engineering firms drafted in to assess Arecibo's structural integrity. The observatory was home to just one of many famous Sean Bean deaths, as he also came to his end in Middle-earth, Maryland, and Ireland.

"The telescope is now at serious risk of an unexpected, uncontrolled collapse", Ralph Gaume, director of NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences, said.

Since the early 60s, the Arecibo Observatory has been an exemplary tool for breakthrough science and has been used by many astronomical disciplines to boost discoveries, including research into brown dwarfs, locating near-Earth objects (NEOs) understanding pulsars and helping to refine fundamental theories of gravity. Even though it has survived a lot of natural calamities like hurricanes and strong earthquakes in the past, it is no longer able to support the structure.

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That main cable should not have failed. The reflective dish is 1,000 feet in diameter, 167 feet deep, and covers an area of about 20 acres. However, on November 6, a second cable, also on tower four, snapped. The platform is suspended by cables connected to three towers. The University of Central Florida said in a statement On November 13.

"While this outcome is not what we had been working towards, and we are disheartened to see such an important scientific resource decommissioned, safety is our top priority", Cartwright said.

The news saddened numerous more than 250 scientists that have used a telescope that is also considered one of Puerto Rico's main tourist attractions, drawing some 90,000 visitors a year. The facility experienced budgetary constraints, but ultimately remained open both for the sake of scientific research and for benefiting Puerto Rico as a whole.

"The NSF has made a decision to start the planning process for a regulator shutdown", Jones said.