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It’s the Finish for Iconic 1,000-Foot-Huge Telescope at Arecibo Observatory After Second Cable Break

Arecibo Observatory

For 57 years the Arecibo Observatory has served as a world-class useful resource for radio astronomy and planetary, photo voltaic system and geospace analysis. UCF stays dedicated to the scientific mission in Arecibo and to the local people. Credit score: UCF

The Nationwide Science Basis expects it is going to be a number of weeks earlier than disassembly of the telescope can start.

Following a evaluation of engineering assessments, the U.S. Nationwide Science Basis introduced it in poor health start planning the managed decommissioning of the 1,000-foot-wide telescope on the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

The observatory, which UCF manages for NSF beneath a cooperative settlement, has for 57 years served as a world-class useful resource for radio astronomy and planetary, photo voltaic system and geospace analysis. However a important cable break on November 6 precipitated the structural integrity of the telescope to return into query.

Three engineering corporations, which had been beforehand employed to deal with an auxiliary cable break on the facility in August, assessed the telescope and submitted their stories to NSF. The engineer of document, Thornton Tomasetti, really useful decommissioning of the telescope as a result of it discovered the telescope construction is in peril of a catastrophic failure. NSF had two different teams evaluation the assessments, and so they concurred that pursuing repairs posed a threat to human life.

“Our group has labored tirelessly with the NSF on the lookout for methods to stabilize the telescope with minimal threat,” says UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright. “Whereas this end result is just not what we had been working in the direction of, and we’re disheartened to see such an essential scientific useful resource decommissioned, security is our prime precedence. At a time when public curiosity and scientific curiosity about area and the skies has re-intensified, there stays a lot to grasp concerning the knowledge that has been acquired by Arecibo. Regardless of this disappointing setback, we stay dedicated to the scientific mission in Arecibo and to the local people.”

UCF will work with NSF to implement the security plans and authorizations wanted to start the decommissioning course of. The work is just not anticipated to start for a number of weeks. The purpose is to deliver down the telescope, which incorporates the platform and Gregorian Dome and preserve as many different components of the power intact for future use.

NSF says it intends to revive the LIDAR facility, which is utilized in geospatial analysis at Arecibo in addition to the customer heart and the offside Culebra analysis substation, which analyzes cloud cowl and precipitation knowledge.

“NSF prioritizes the security of staff and Arecibo Observatory’s workers and guests, which makes this resolution needed, though unlucky,” stated NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. “For practically six many years, the Arecibo Observatory has served as a beacon for breakthrough science and what a partnership with a group can appear like. Whereas this can be a profound change, we can be on the lookout for methods to help the scientific group and preserve that robust relationship with the individuals of Puerto Rico.”

Arecibo’s Beginnings

The Arecibo Observatory was constructed from 1960 to 1963 and was the brainchild of Cornell College Physicist William Edwin Gordon. Cornell College was the primary supervisor of the positioning. The situation was supreme for the telescope and would result in many years of serious contributions within the areas of atmospheric sciences, planetary sciences, radio astronomy and radar astronomy.

AO’s telescope’s big main disc has been a workhorse for science. It was used to find the primary exoplanets and detect natural molecules exterior our galaxy. The 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor for his or her work with Arecibo in monitoring a binary pulsar, offering a strict check of Einstein’s concept of normal relativity and the primary proof for the existence of gravitational waves. Arecibo additionally helps NASA characterize asteroids that might pose a menace to earth via the company’s Close to-Earth Object Observations Program within the Planetary Protection Coordination Workplace. The ability even appeared in a James Bond movie and The X-Information tv sequence.

Thought-about a cultural treasure in Puerto Rico, the positioning is visited by hundreds of faculty kids annually and hundreds of different guests from world wide. The customer heart, constructed via non-public donations, additionally conducts a number of training outreach applications all year long that influence all learners. NSF helps a Analysis Expertise for Undergraduates program there every summer season.

UCF turned the power’s supervisor in April 2018 after being awarded a $20.15 million, five-year grant. That is yr three of the grant. Since coming onboard with UCF, the power secured new funding to proceed NASA’s work and to design and information new devices that have been scheduled to be added to the telescope over the subsequent few years. Different scientists additionally secured funding to boost Arecibo together with a 2018 grant awarded to Brigham Younger College and Cornell College for $5.eight million to design and mount a supersensitive antenna (ALPACA) at the focus of the telescope’s dish.

In 2019, UCF expanded its settlement with Microsoft, which resulted within the observatory having access to quite a lot of Azure providers –– from analytics to synthetic intelligence –– to develop a brand new platform that can assist facilitate entry and storage of the 12 petabytes of knowledge the observatory has collected in its 50-year historical past. As soon as totally carried out, the brand new platform is anticipated to make sturdy details about planets, pulsars, asteroids and comets extra simply accessible to scientists working at Arecibo and world wide. The work is underway.

The observatory continued to assist scientists with observations that they was revealed journal articles and which expanded our data of area and Earth’s place within the photo voltaic system.


The ability has endured a number of hurricanes and earthquakes. It was broken throughout hurricane Maria in 2017, and the Federal Emergency Administration Company used the observatory’s helicopter touchdown pad and different services as a staging floor to get provides and assist to the group. UCF labored to safe funding to make repairs and enhance the positioning after the hurricane. The work was ongoing when the primary auxiliary cable broke in August 2020.

The cable slipped from its socket in one of many towers, leaving a 100-foot gash within the dish under. A group of consultants have been known as in to research the reason for the break and determine a option to make repairs. UCF labored with NSF to evaluate the break and provide you with a plan. The ability was closed, and a monitoring group started watching all of the cables and platform as a part of the power’s security and non permanent emergency restore plan. Security was the precedence all through the evaluation course of. Arecibo was awaiting a group of engineers who have been anticipated to start non permanent emergency repairs associated to the August incident when the primary cable broke on Friday, November 6.

Not like the auxiliary cable that failed, this important cable didn’t slip out of its socket. It broke and fell onto the reflector dish under, inflicting further harm to the dish and different close by cables. Each cables have been related to the identical help tower. A security zone was arrange across the dish and solely personnel wanted to answer the incident have been allowed onsite.

The second damaged cable was sudden. Engineering assessments following the auxiliary cable failure indicated that the construction was secure, and the planning course of to revive the telescope to operation was underway. Engineers subsequently discovered the Three-inch important cable snapped at about 60 p.c of what ought to have been its minimal breaking energy throughout a interval of calm climate, elevating the potential of different cables being weaker than anticipated. Subsequent inspections through drones of the opposite cables revealed new wire breaks on among the important cables.

All the knowledge was shared with NSF, which notified UCF of its resolution on Nov. 18. Subsequent steps are nonetheless pending, and UCF is dedicated to working with the Puerto Rican group.

“Important work stays to be carried out within the space of atmospheric sciences, planetary sciences, radio astronomy and radar astronomy,” President Cartwright says. “UCF stands able to make the most of its expertise with the observatory to affix different stakeholders in pursuing the type of dedication and funding wanted to proceed and construct on Arecibo’s contributions to science.”

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