- Paul Rincon
- BBC News Science Editor
The iconic Arecibo radio telescope, in Puerto Rico, must be dismantled due to security problems detected in its structure, authorities reported.
A review of the 305 m diameter observatory showed that there is a risk of collapse catastrophic, as there is damage to its support system.
It was concluded that the huge structure could not be repaired without posing a risk life-threatening for construction workers.
The telescope has been a key scientific resource for astronomers for almost 60 years.
Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the US National Science Foundation (NSF) that funds the telescope, said in a statement: “The NSF prioritizes the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory personnel, and the visitors, which makes this decision necessary, albeit unfortunate. “
The telescope consists of a 305-meter diameter parabolic antenna with a 900-ton instrument platform suspended 137 m high. The platform is supported by cables connected to three towers.
Engineers had been examining the structure since August, when one of its support cables broke.
The University of Central Florida, which manages the facility, had come up with a solution to stabilize the structure. But on November 6 another cable broke.
Based on the stresses acting on the second broken cable, the engineers concluded that the remaining cables were probably weaker than previously thought.
NSF did multiple evaluations of independent engineering companies and concluded that the telescope structure was “in danger of catastrophic failure” and that your cables may not be able to withstand the loads for which they were designed.
Additionally, various reviews indicated that any repair attempt could put workers in danger of death.
“Until these assessments came in, our question was not whether the observatory should be repaired, but how. But in the end, a weighting of data showed that we just couldn’t do this safely. And that’s a line we can’t cross,” he said Ralph Gaume, director of the astronomical sciences division at NSF.
The foundation will now focus on dismantling the giant structure, which is surrounded by vegetation in the western half of the island.
A historical telescope
The Arecibo radio telescope was built in the early 1960s with the intention of studying the ionized upper part of Earth’s atmosphere, the ionosphere.
But it was soon used also as a multipurpose radio observatory.
Radio astronomy is a field within the broader discipline that observes objects in the universe by studying them through radio frequencies. Various cosmic phenomena, such as pulsars (rotating magnetized stars), show emissions at radio wavelengths.
Through this observatory it was obtained the first solid evidence of a type of object known as neutron star.
It was also used to identify the first example of a pulsar binario (two magnetized neutron stars orbiting a common center of mass), which earned its discoverers the Nobel Prize in Physics.
The telescope also helped make the first definitive detectionthe of andxoplanetas, planetary bodies orbiting other stars, in 1992.
It has also been used to listen for signals of intelligent life in other parts of the cosmos and to track near-Earth asteroids.
Throughout the years, the main dish appeared in movies, included Goldeneye, the James Bond film starring Pierce Brosnan in 1995, as well as the sci-fi drama “Contact” (Contact, 1997), con Jodie Foster y Matthew McConaughey.
Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Republican Congressman Frank Lucas, who are respectively chairman and senior member of the US House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology, said in a statement that they were “saddened by the loss. of this laboratory. “
“Everyone involved in this facility should be proud of what they have accomplished. Arecibo will be remembered for its illustrious scientific legacy“.
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