The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is in a very precarious state after the recent failure of two supporting cables, calling into question the future of this famous facility.
As we feared, the situation in Arecibo seems terrible. With the missing two support cables, the 900-tonne platform, located directly above the vessel, is now supported by the other main and auxiliary cables – some of which are already worn out, According to to the University of Central Florida (UCF).
The problem started on August 10, when an additional cable fell on the vesselcausing great damage. Main cable afterwards clicked on November 6, which worsened the situation. A safety zone has been set up around the damaged reflector plate, and the only personnel allowed in the facility are those dealing with the crisis. Engineers from three different engineering companies are currently assessing the damage and try to come up with potential solutions. UCF manages Arecibo for the National Science Foundation (NSF), in a collaboration agreement that includes Universidad Ana G. Méndez and Yang Enterprises.
Built in the early 60’s, the favorite observatory begins to show its age. The facility is used by scientists around the world for a wide range of tasks, from atmospheric, stellar and planetary sciences to the search for extraterrestrial and potentially dangerous asteroids.. Arecibo, as one of the most recognizable observatories in the world, was featured in the 1995 spy film. Golden eye and a 1997 science fiction film. Contact, in which Jodie Foster portrays a scientist from SETI. The observatory has a disappointing history, but it has to endure earthquakes,, hurricanes, and fiscal uncertainty.
Engineers currently working at Arecibo are still trying to determine the cause of the recent cable failures and assess the condition of the observatory, which they do with air drones and remote cameras. Like UCF today reports, the equipment is designed so that the main cable has managed to cope with the additional load after the collapse of the auxiliary cable, but failed. Preliminary analysis suggests that the second cable failed because “it has decomposed over time and carries an additional load since August,” according to UCF Today. Engineers will learn more after analyzing the damaged main cable.
The problem is that all other cables now “support more weight than before, increasing the likelihood of a new cable failure that is likely to cause the entire structure to collapse,” the UCF report notes. Moreover, some of these cables show broken wires, which indicates the seriousness of the situation. As UCF Today notes, engineering companies “cannot verify the integrity of other cables at this time.”
Mike Nolan, a research professor at the University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, said the situation in Arecibo was quite serious.
“The original cable damage in August was apparently a hidden manufacturing defect that was probably – I guess – caused by the recent series of earthquakes in Puerto Rico,” he explained in an email. “Now that the second cable is damaged, obviously due to overvoltage, we are all very worried. There are six cables from this tower to the suspended structure: If two more fail the same tower, the suspended structure definitely falls. “
Now the priority is to remove some of the voltage from the other cables, Nolan said, “either by reducing the load or adding reinforcement,” or a combination of both, “so that the problem of the manufacturing defect can be solved.”
Observatory officials are trying to speed up the receipt of two new maintenance cables, which are currently in order, and have asked NSF for financial assistance to help with temporary repairs.
The Observatory’s staff estimates the current cost of the damage at $ 12 million, reports AP.
NSF “ensures that the Arecibo Observatory has all the resources needed for emergency repairs, engineering and forensic assessment after the first cable failure,” NSF spokesman Rob Margeta explained in an email. The NSF, he said, “empowered Arecibo to take all reasonable steps and use eligible means to provide the necessary analysis and equipment,” and NSF “is currently awaiting engineering analyzes and cost estimates.” Asked if there was a future for Arecibo, Margetta said engineering and costs were still ongoing and that NSF would not be able to answer that question until it was completed.
In an email, NASA spokesman Joshua Handal said the damage to Arechibo was still being assessed by UCF observatory management, after which the NSF “will consult with stakeholders, including NASA, to determine how to act.”
It is fair to say that the future of the Arecibo Observatory is already a big question. And that’s a real shame, given its scientific significance.
“The Arecibo Observatory is not the largest radio telescope in the world, but it is still the largest and most powerful radar. Most radio telescopes can only receive radio signals, but Arecibo can transmit as well as radars, “said Abel Mendes, an associate professor of physics and astrobiology at the Planetary Habitat Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico-Arecibo. in an email. “Arecibo is therefore the best tool in the world to study the properties and trajectory of any potentially dangerous asteroid moving toward Earth.”
During recently finished workshop to explore the different ways we could explore the potentially dangerous asteroid Apophis when it passes Earth In 2029, Arecibo scientist Anne Virki expressed concern that the facility would not be available soon. She planned to do a radio scan of the asteroid in March 2021. when Apophis will reach 16.5 million km from Earth at 10.5 million miles. In fact, this now seems unlikely, given the current situation. It is a real loss that scientists need to study this asteroid as much as possible.
Nolan, Mendes, Virki and so many other researchers will now have to wait and hold their collective breath in the hope that the situation in Arecibo will not worsen from the current and that it can will be removed soon.