Iconic Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico will be decommissioned

Iconic Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico will be decommissioned

An incident in August of this year saw a cable slip out of its socket, potentially putting the telescope and astronomers in danger. The decommissioning is the result of structural weaknesses that have been discovered after a support cable broke in August.

The observatory was previously at risk of closing in 2017 following damage from Hurricane Maria, although it did act as a shelter during the storm and its well provided water to local communities. The cables were created to support a 900-ton platform 450 feet above the dish.

The cultural and economic significance of Arecibo Observatory to Puerto Rico and the astronomers who used it can not be understated and the loss of such an legendary structure will be felt for years to come. On the last 6, one of the 12 main steel cables of the telescope, created to support 544 tons, broke under 283 ml kilos. Not long after, it was reported that a second cable had snapped, forcing the NSF to evaluate how to fix it.

A second cable break on 7 November tore through Arecibo's dish panels and brought the suspended instrument platform to the verge of collapse.

This discovery led to the other cables, both main and auxiliary, being examined. After going over three separate engineering reports, the NSF, which owns the property, has decided the facility is unstable enough that there is no way to fix the damage that does not put personnel at undue risk, according to Space.com.

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"NSF has concluded that this recent damage to the 305-meter telescope can not be addressed without risking the lives and safety of work crews and staff", Reuters quoted Sean Jones, assistant director of the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate at NSF, as having said. One advised that immediate action be taken to stabilise the structure of the telescope. "For a person who has had a lot of his scientific life associated with that telescope, this is a rather interesting and sadly emotional moment".

Arecibo was also famed for a radio message sent into space in 1974 which carried basic information about our planets and the people that live it on.

"NSF prioritises the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory's staff and visitors, which makes this decision necessary, although unfortunate", said NSF director Sethuraman Panchanathan. Although meant as a demonstration of human technological achievement, rather than a real attempt to contact aliens, the observatory has since been used by SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) to help find technologically advanced civilisations.

Until the assessments from independent engineering companies came in, "our question was not if the observatory should be repaired but how", Gaume said.

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