After Two Mishaps, 57 Years of Astronomical Exploration Ends
A large US space telescope nestled deep in the Puerto Rican jungle will be shut down after experiencing two devastating mishaps in recent months, ending 57 years of astronomical exploration.
Operations at the Arecibo Observatory, one of the largest in the world, were halted in August when one of its supporting cables slipped loose from its socket, dropping and gasping a 30-metre (100-ft) hole in its 305-metre (1,000-ft) reflector dish.
Engineers struggled to formulate a solution
Another cable broke earlier this month, ripping a new hole in the dish and destroying nearby cables as engineers struggled to formulate a solution to save the crippled structure.
Accidents at the site – also known as the setting for James Bond’s GoldenEye film, as well as Touch starring Jodie Foster – caused the US National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent government agency, to call time for the facility.
The Damage Cannot Be Addressed Without Risking Lives: NSF
“NSF has concluded that this recent damage to the 305m telescope cannot be addressed without risking the lives and safety of work crews and staff”,Sean Jones, Assistant Director of Mathematics and Physical Sciences at NSF, said Thursday.
NSF has agreed to start the planning process for controlled decommissioning. Engineers have not yet found the cause of the initial cable failure, NSF spokesperson said. It is expected that the plan will be implemented appropriately.
Observatory Used by Scientists and Astronomers Around the World
The observatory’s massive reflector dish and 816-ton structure, 137m above it, located in the wet forests of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, has been used by scientists and astronomers around the world for decades to study distant planets, identify potentially dangerous asteroids, and search for signatures of extraterrestrial life.
Telescope Laid the Groundwork for NASA
The telescope was instrumental in the discovery of the near-earth asteroid Bennu in 1999, which laid the groundwork for Nasa to send a robotic probe there to capture and ultimately return its first asteroid dirt sample some two decades later.
If the Main Cable Fails, a Catastrophic Collapse Will Follow: University of Florida
Last week an engineering company hired by the University of Central Florida, which operates the NSF observatory under a five-year $20m deal, concluded in a report to the university that “ if the additional main cable fails, a catastrophic collapse of the entire structure will soon follow.”
Citing safety issues the company ruled out plans to restore the observatory and proposed controlled demolition.