The iconic Arecibo Observatory will close completely to carry out a partial demolition of the structure that is at risk of collapse, reported this Thursday the National Science Foundation (NSF) in a press release.
The scientific entity indicated that, after the rupture of a second support cable at the beginning of this month, the others that support the more than 900 tons of the Gregorian Dome and the system to position it on the reflector plate could not withstand the additional load. The radio telescope is one of the largest in the world and has served as a global research resource for 57 years.
The NSF decision came after reviewing multiple assessments by three engineering companies, which determined that damage to the Observatory cannot be done without putting construction workers and facility personnel at risk.
Engineering companies found that the radio telescope structure is in danger of “catastrophic failure” and that its cables may no longer be able to withstand the loads for which they were designed. Additionally, various evaluations concluded that any attempted repair could put workers in “life-threatening danger.”
Even in the event of future repairs, engineers determined that the structure would likely present long-term stability issues.
“NSF prioritizes the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory staff and visitors, which makes this decision necessary, albeit unfortunate”NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in the press release.
“For almost six decades, the Arecibo Observatory has served as a beacon for revolutionary science and what a partnership with a community can look like. While this is a profound change, we will look for ways to help the scientific community and maintain that strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico, ”added Panchanathan.
In review since August
In the statement, the NSF reported that engineers have been checking the 305-meter radio telescope since last august, when the first support wire came off and caused damage to the reflector plate.
Then, the scientific entity authorized the University of Central Florida, (UCF, in English), which administers the Observatory, to take all reasonable measures and use the available funds to address the situation.
Engineering teams had designed and were ready to implement emergency structural stabilization of the auxiliary cable system, but work was interrupted with the fall of the second cable on November 6. In consecuense, the engineers concluded that the remaining cables are probably weaker than originally projected.
“The leadership of the Arecibo Observatory and UCF did a commendable job in addressing this situation, acting quickly and looking for all possible options to save this incredible instrument,” said Ralph Gaume, director of the Division of Astronomical Sciences. of the NSF.
“Until these assessments came in, our question was not whether the Observatory should be repaired, but how. But in the end, a preponderance of data showed that we simply couldn’t do this safely. And that’s a line that we can’t cross”Gaume added.
The decommissioning plan
The NSF said, meanwhile, that the scope of the dismantling and demolition plan will focus only on the radio telescope and is intended to preserve “safely” other parts of the Observatory, which could be damaged or destroyed in the event of an unplanned catastrophic collapse.
The plan aims to retain as much of the Observatory’s remaining infrastructure as possible, so that it remains available for future research and educational missions.
According to the scientific entity, the dismantling and demolition process involves develop a “technical execution plan” and ensure compliance with a series of legal, environmental, security and cultural requirements in the coming weeks.
The NSF also authorized a high resolution photographic study using drones and is considering options for the “forensic evaluation” of the broken cables. This work has already started and will continue during the planning of the dismantling and demolition.
The equipment and other materials of the Observatory will be transferred to buildings outside the danger zone. When all the necessary preparations have been made, the radio telescope will undergo a “controlled teardown”.
According to the NSF, after the dismantling of the radio telescope, there would be the intention to restore other operations, such as the LiDAR facility (method for measuring distances using laser beams) at the Observatory, described as a valuable geospatial research tool, as well as the visitor center and external facility at Culebra, which analyzes cloud cover and cloud data. precipitation.
NSF will also explore options to expand the educational capabilities of the learning center run by the Cupey campus of the Ana G. Méndez University.
Finally, it was reported that some operations of the Observatory would continue, such as the analysis and cataloging of archived data collected by the radio telescope.