Puerto Rico’s Arecibo radio telescope damaged by falling cable

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A broken cable at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico tore a gaping 100-foot hole in the dish of one of the world’s largest radio telescopes, taking the instrument offline until repairs can be made.Arecibo’s massive reflector dish, built inside a sinkhole in northern Puerto Rico, was damaged when a 3-inch-diameter support cable unexpectedly snapped before dawn in Monday, according to the University of Central Florida, which operates the observatory.

In a photo of the damage, twisted panels that make up the 1,000-foot dish can be seen hanging from the structure or lying on the ground below.

When the cable fell, it also damaged several panels of the Gregorian Dome which hangs above the antenna and houses sensitive receivers to pick up signals from space.

“We have a team of experts assessing the situation,” Francisco Cordova, director of the observatory, said in an emailed statement to NPR. “Our goal is to ensure the safety of our staff, to protect facilities and equipment, and to get the facility back up to speed as soon as possible, so that it can continue to help scientists around the world.

The press release indicates that the cause of the cable break is not yet clear and does not give a repair schedule.

In an email to NPR, Ramon Lugo III, director of the Florida Space Institute at the University of Central Florida, said that “removing the damaged cable and purchasing a cable to replace the damaged cable” were in progress. evaluation course.

“We are also working on a determination of the cause of this failure, including non-destructive testing of the remaining cables,” he said, adding that after a full assessment, “we will develop a recovery plan, a timetable. and a budget ”.

Since its completion in 1963, Arecibo has played a key role in discoveries ranging from new knowledge about pulsars to the detection of planets outside our solar system. It has featured prominently in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI. The observatory was also featured in the film Contact and the James Bond film Golden eye.

The observatory held the record for the world’s largest radio telescope until 2016, when an even larger instrument of a similar design, known as the five-hundred-meter-aperture spherical radio telescope, was completed in the south of China. After testing, FAST officially went live last year.

In 2017, one of Arecibo’s much smaller dishes and a few panels on the main course were damaged when Category 4 Hurricane Maria swept through the island.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To learn more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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