SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Giant, aging cables supporting one of the world’s largest single-dish radio telescopes are slowly being exposed in this American region, which in an astronomical discoveries to an observatory She is famous for her important role. .
The RCBo Observatory, located above a sinkhole in the lush mountainous region of Puerto Rico, features a 1,000-foot-wide (305-meter-wide) dish in the Jodie Foster film “Contact” and the James film film “GoldenEye”. The dish and a dome suspended above it have been used to track asteroids toward Earth, leading to a Nobel Prize and helping scientists determine if the planet is habitable.
“As someone who relies on Arecibo for my science, I’m in awe. It’s a very worrying situation right now. Cascading, catastrophic failure is likely,” said astronomer Scott Ransom from the North American Nanohartz Observatory for Gravitational Waves, America, and Said in collaboration with Canadian scientists.
Last week, one of the main steel cables of the telescope, which was able to sustain 1.2 million pounds (544,000 kg) scrambled under just 624,000 pounds (283,000 kg). That failure caused a 100-foot hole in the reflector dish to be torn and damaged the damper above it after the auxiliary cable broke in August.
Officials said they were surprised as they evaluated the structure in August and believed it could handle the change in weight based on previous inspections.
It is a shock to the telescope that more than 250 scientists from around the world were using. The facility is one of Puerto Rico’s main tourist attractions, attracting approximately 90,000 visitors each year. Research has been suspended since August, with a project assisting scientists in the search for nearby galaxies.
The telescope was built in the 1960s and was funded by the Department of Defense amid a push to develop ballistic missile defenses. It has been a disaster for more than half a century, including hurricanes and earthquakes. The repair of Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, was still underway when the first cable wreaked havoc.
Some new cables are scheduled to arrive next month, but officials said funding for the repairs has not been worked out with federal agencies. Scientists warn that time is running out. Only a handful of cables now support 900-ton platforms.
The University of Central Florida, which manages the facility, said, “Each remaining cable of the structure is now supporting more weight than before, increasing the likelihood of another cable failure, resulting in the collapse of the entire structure Will likely be. ” Statement Friday.
University officials say the crew has already broken wires on two of the remaining main cables. He warned that employees and contractors are at risk, despite relying too heavily on drones and remote cameras to assess damage.
The observatory estimates damage at more than $ 12 million and is seeking funds from the National Science Foundation, an independent federal agency that owns the observatory.
Foundation spokesman Rob Margate said the engineering and cost estimates have not been met and the repair funding will include discussions with Congress and stakeholders. He added that the agency “is reviewing all recommendations for action on the revision.”
“NSF is ultimately responsible for making decisions about the security of the structure,” he said in an email. “Our top priority is the safety of anyone on site.”
University representatives and the observatory said that the director of the telescope, Francisco Cordova, was not available for comment. In a Facebook post, the observatory said that maintenance was to date and the most recent external structural assessment occurred after Hurricane Maria.
The university said the most recent damage occurred as a result of malfunctioning of the cable over time and carrying excess weight after the auxiliary cable burst. In August, the socket that held that cable failed, possibly a result of a manufacturing error, the observatory said.
The problems have hampered the work of researchers such as Edgar Rivera-Valentin, a scientist at the Universities Space Research Association at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Texas. He planned to study Mars in September while coming closer to Earth.
He said, “It was the closest planet to Mars till 2067, despite being observable by Arisco.” “I won’t be around the next time we can get this level of radar data.”
The observatory in Puerto Rico is considered important for the study of pulsars, which are the remains of stars that can be used to detect gravitational waves, a phenomenon Albert Einstein predicted in his theory of general relativity. Telescopes are also used to search for neutral hydrogen, which may explain how some cosmic structures are formed.
“It is more than 50 years old, but it remains a very important tool,” said Alex Volzeschen, a Polish-origin astronomer and professor at Pennsylvania State University.
He first helped discover extrasolar and pulsar planets, and attributed the observatory to a culture that allowed him to test what he described as wild ideas that sometimes worked.
“Losing is a very important setback for me, which I think is a very important science,” said Volszkain.
An astronomer at the Observatory in the 1980s and early 1990s, Walszcann still uses telescopes for some work because it provides an unmatched combination of high frequency range and sensitivity that he calls a “vast array” of science projects Allows for Among them: observing life molecules, detecting radio emission of stars and conducting pulsars.
The telescope was also a training ground for graduate students and was widely loved for its educational opportunities, said Carmen Pantoja, an astronomer and professor at the University of Puerto Rico, the island’s largest public university.
She relied on it for her doctoral thesis and remembered staring with surprise when she was a little girl.
“I said how big and mysterious it was,” she said. “The future of telescopes depends a lot on what the National Science Foundation is in a situation … I hope they can find a way and have the goodwill to save it.”