A giant Puerto Rico radio telescope that hits science

San Juan, Puerto Rico — The National Science Foundation announced Thursday that it will hit a giant telescope at Puerto Rico’s famous Arecibo Observatory, hitting scientists around the world who rely on exploration of planets, asteroids and extraterrestrials. Did.

An independent federal-funded agency said it would be too dangerous to keep operating the parabolic antenna, one of the world’s largest radio telescopes, given the serious damage it has suffered recently. In August, the auxiliary cable broke, tearing a 100-foot hole in the reflector and damaging the dome above it. Then, on November 6, he warned authorities that one of the telescope’s main steel cables could break and the entire structure could collapse.

NSF officials said engineers found the structure unstable in the long run, even if the crew repaired all damage.

“This decision is not an easy decision for NSF, but people’s safety is our number one priority,” said Sean Jones, assistant director of institutions in the Department of Mathematics and Physical Sciences. “We understand how Arecibo means to this community and Puerto Rico.”

A damaged radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.
A damaged radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.AP

He said the goal was to preserve the telescope without endangering people, but “we couldn’t find a way forward to make it possible to do so safely.”

The telescope was built in the 1960s with funding from the Department of Defense as it promoted the development of ballistic missile defense. With 57 years of operation, it has withstood hurricanes, endless humidity and a series of recent strong earthquakes.

The telescope boasts a 1,000-foot-wide dish featured in Jodie Foster’s movie “Contact” and James Bond’s movie “GoldenEye.” Scientists around the world use this dish with a 900-ton platform hanging 450 feet above to track asteroids on their way to Earth and conduct research that leads to the Nobel Prize, making the planet potentially. I decided if I could live.

In recent years, NSF-owned facilities have been managed by the University of Central Florida.

Alex Walshzan, a Polish-born astronomer and professor at Penn State University who helped discover the first exoplanets and pulsar planets, told The Associated Press that the news wasn’t surprising, but unfortunate. He said it was. He worked with telescopes in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“I was against the hope that they would come up with some sort of solution to keep it open,” he said. “For those who have lived a lot of scientific life in connection with the telescope, this is a pretty interesting and sadly emotional moment.”

The announcement has saddened many across the scientific community, with the hashtag #WhatAreciboMeansToMe popping up on Twitter with pictures of people working, visiting, getting married, and celebrating their birthdays.

Ralph Gorme, director of NSF’s astronomical sciences department, emphasized that this decision had nothing to do with the capabilities of the astronomical observatory. This allowed scientists to study pulsars to detect gravitational waves and search for neutral hydrogen. Will be formed.

“Telescopes are now at serious risk of unexpected and uncontrollable collapse,” he said. “Attempts to stabilize and test cables can accelerate catastrophic failure.”

Authorities suspect that the potential manufacturing error is due to an auxiliary cable that breaks after the socket holding it fails, but that the main cable only supports about 60% of its capacity. Given that, he says he is surprised that it broke after about three months. Ashley Zauderer, Program Officer at the Arecibo Observatory at NSF, evaluated the situation after the first cable broke, and about 12 of the 160 wires of the second cable that eventually broke were already broken. Said that.

“This was identified as an issue that needed to be addressed, but was not considered an imminent threat,” she said.

She and other NSF officials said they followed all standard maintenance procedures.

The closure is a blow to many of the more than 250 scientists who used the telescope, which is considered one of Puerto Rico’s major tourist attractions, and is visited by about 90,000 visitors annually. It has also served as a training ground for hundreds of graduate students for a long time.

The world's largest satellite dish at the Arecibo Observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

“It was my Disney,” wrote Edgard Rivera Valentin, a scientist at the University Space Research Association of the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Texas, in a series of tweets. He remembered his first visit when he was four or five years old.

“Think about what the Golden Gate Bridge means to San Francisco and the Statue of Liberty to the New Yorkers. Arecibo is more than an icon for Puerto Rico.”

NSF said it plans to resume operations of the remaining assets of the observatory, including two lidar facilities on the nearby island of Culebra. They are used to study the upper atmosphere and ionosphere, such as the analysis of cloud cover and precipitation data. Staff are also aiming to resume operations at the visitor center.

Astronomer Walshzan said the value of the telescope would not disappear soon. He and many other scientists are working on projects based on data obtained from observations and observatories.

“The process of saying goodbye to Arecibo will certainly take years,” he said. “It’s not instant.”

A giant Puerto Rico radio telescope that hits science

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