Famed Arecibo telescope, on the brink of collapse, will be dismantled

Famed Arecibo telescope, on the brink of collapse, will be dismantled

The massive radio telescope that was situated at Arecibo Observatory is now in danger of a catastrophic failure. However, considering the safety of the workers involved in the everyday operations of the telescope, this decision to demolish the structure is to be taken.

The US National Science Foundation announced on Thursday that it would close down the 305-metre reflector dish at Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory after it suffered two destructive mishaps in recent months.

One of the auxiliary cables pulled out of its socket in August and fell to the dish below, creating a 100-foot gash. This cable was an auxiliary one, which meant that the dome was not directly held up by it.

Another cable then broke this month, tearing a new hole in the dish and damaging nearby cables as engineers scrambled to devise a plan to preserve the crippled structure.

Last week, one of the telescope's main steel cables that was capable of sustaining 544,000 kilograms snapped under only 283,000 kilograms. "The Army Corps of Engineers recommended gathering additional photographic evidence of the facility and a complete forensic evaluation of the broken cable", NSF wrote.

"Following a review of engineering assessments that found damage to the Arecibo Observatory can not be stabilized without risk to construction workers and staff at the facility, the US National Science Foundation will begin plans to decommission the 305-meter telescope, which for 57 years has served as a world-class resource for radio astronomy, planetary, solar system, and geospace research", the NSF said. An assessment by the engineering firm of Thornton Tomasetti has determined that the radio dish and its 900-ton instrument platform are too unstable to be safely repaired.

UCF will work with NSF to implement the safety plans and authorizations needed to begin the decommissioning process, which is not expected to begin for several weeks.


"The telescope is now at serious risk of an unexpected, uncontrolled collapse", Ralph Gaume, director of NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences, said.

Following is a summary of current science news briefs.

Since the Arecibo Observatory's completion in 1963, it has been used for scientific research in radio astronomy and atmospheric science.

Scientists around the world have used it to track asteroids on their way to Earth, and it is part of the Extraterrestrial Intelligence (CHET) program to find out if there is intelligent life beyond our planet.

The observatory's striking location - in the middle of a heavy forest - also made it a tourist spot and earned it several film appearances.

It has also been used to listen for signals from intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos and to track near-Earth asteroids. While the observatory will soon cease to exist, its interplanetary message will live on - as will the memories of its use in astronomers' archives.

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