No one was expecting it on Snap on 6 November RCBo Observatory The summer in Puerto Rico weighed its options to deal with damage to the facility from a cable failure.
But the way the engineers were ready to start repairs on the secondary cable which slipped Out of its socket in august, He faced a much more serious challenge: one of which Main cable unexpectedly cracking, Risking the entire facility.
“We have seen some individual wires broken on that particular cable, but we had not seen any changes for weeks,” observatory director Francisco Cordova told Space.com.
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Cordova stated, “That particular situation was evaluated by the engineering team and was not an issue because the capacity of that cable was much higher than the load it was carrying, which really shouldn’t be a problem was”. “Certainly now with this failure, we understand that the capacity is simply not there and there are other declines.”
Located in a natural basin in the middle of the Puerto Rican forest, Arecibo Observatory began science work in 1963 and is the second largest radio dish in the world. Scientists have used it to confirm that pulsars are superdense neutron stars, which search for the first planets beyond our solar system, Broadcast a message In the universe in the hope of reaching intelligent alien life. It is also Earth’s major watchdog to identify if there are specific asteroids to hit the planet – and it appeared in blockbuster films like James Bond’s “Goldeneye” and “Contact”, no less.
Arecibo was designed by a scientist at Cornell University who until 2011 had facilitated the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the main funder of the observatory. Facing increasing budget pressures, NSF gradually phased out its funding, moving operations first to the Universities Space Research Association and then to two University of Central Florida, Although NSF still owns the site.
But the observatory has been difficult for the past few years. In 2014, a strong earthquake damaged parts of the facility, including a cable that the facility’s managers were hoping to replace later this year. In 2017, Storm maria Poto Rico battered but mostly spared Arecibo. The helipad and well water facility of the observatory were important resources for those living nearby. Outside astronomers had to wait for a week to learn that the observatory was still standing.
This year, throughout January, A. Series of earthquakesThe strongest 6.4 temple shook Puerto Rico, and the facility closed for inspection. When the month was over and it was accompanied by an earthquake, Puerto Ricans celebrated the New Year, hoping that the worst time of the year was over, Abel Mendez, the planet astrologer at the University of Puerto Rico, who regularly invited students to RCBo Bring in to see, told. Space.com – Only to face the outbreak of the coronavirus epidemic in March.
But for the observatory, things will only get worse.
The first cable slipped from its socket on August 10 at 2:45 am local time. In its path, it damaged the observation facilities suspended above the dish, as well as the 100-ft-long (30 m) “gush” gogging in the delicate dish, according to Statement from the University of Central Florida, Which operates the facility.
On November 6, at 7:39 pm, the situation became worse when a second cable – this time, one of the primary cables – collapsed, compromising the structural integrity of the 900-ton (800,000 kg) platform at the loom. The dish rotates, holding the facility’s antennas and scientific equipment.
“Time is important right now,” Mendez told Space.com. “I’m completely scared of what’s happening at the observatory now. I’m very worried about it.”
The situation is also difficult to assess since it is dangerous for towers to reach the suspended platform and anchor its supporting cables. “When you have access to the towers, you have access to the platform, there are a million ways you can take out a failed cable, flatten a new cable,” Cordova said. “When you can’t reach the attachment points for these cables, it becomes a big challenge.”
On the ground, Cordova said, the damage is not as bad as it actually is.
“When you look at the platform you don’t see much of a difference – of course you see a couple of extra cables that are hanging down which shouldn’t be, they should actually point, and they’re pointing down Are, ”Cordova said. “But it is such a huge structure that the telescope also gets lost in the shape of the background of the platform.”
The same is true of loss dishes Have accumulated during the events, he said. “Certainly the dish is quite damaged,” Cordova said. “[but] Whenever you see how big our primary reflector is and you see what the damage is, it also doesn’t look like something that’s impossible. “
The Observatory has put together options to stabilize the situation and is awaiting the decision of the National Science Foundation, which is about the facility as to how to proceed. “Hopefully in the next few days, we’ll have that decision,” Cordova said.
Meanwhile, scientists associated with the Aresibo Observatory are hoping for the best. Researchers are also gathering in regular virtual meetings, which Mendez described as a “stress relief” session, to talk about the situation and share memories of the facility.
“This is quite obviously an extremely worrying situation,” Don Campbell, who began his career at Aresibo in 1965 and eventually served as director of the observatory in the 1980s, told Space.com. “The first cable failure was certainly a surprise and a strong concern … With the second cable failure, obviously things became significantly more serious.”
Danger is not only half a century of history of astronomy, atmospheric studies, research research Near-Earth Asteroids And the discovery of life beyond the earth. Regarding more, scientists say, there is a possibility of losing a unique facility with a lot of work to do.
“Campbell said,” Arecibo is still very much a telescope at the forefront of many fields and its loss will be tremendous. “” I am so happy to cross all my fingers that they will find out how to stabilize the structure and repair it. I’m still alright to some extent. “
“It’s a precarious situation,” he said, “and we just have to wait and see.”
Email Meghan Bartels at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @meaganbartels. Follow us @Spacedotcom on Twitter and on Facebook.