A huge US space telescope located deep in the Puerto Rican jungle will shut down after suffering two destructive mishaps in recent months, ending 57 years of astronomical discoveries.
Operations at the Arecibo observatory, one of the largest in the world, came to a halt in August when one of its support cables came loose from its socket, falling and opening a 30-meter (100-foot) hole in its 305-meter span. width (1,000 feet). reflector plate.
Then another cable snapped earlier this month, opening a new hole in the plate and damaging nearby cables as engineers scrambled to come up with a plan to preserve the damaged structure.
Accidents at the site, also famous as the setting for the James Bond film GoldenEye, as well as Contact, starring Jodie Foster, led the US National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent government agency, to suspend the installations.
“NSF has concluded that this recent damage to the 305-m telescope cannot be addressed without putting the lives and safety of work crews and personnel at risk,” said Sean Jones, deputy director of management. math and physical sciences from NSF.
“NSF has decided to begin the planning process for a controlled decommissioning,” Jones said.
Engineers have yet to determine the cause of the cable’s initial failure, an NSF spokesperson said.
The large reflector plate of the observatory and an 816-ton structure that hangs 137 m above it, located in the humid forests of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, had been used by scientists and astronomers around the world for decades to analyze distant planets, find potentially dangerous asteroids, and search for signatures of extraterrestrial life.
The telescope was instrumental in detecting the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in 1999, laying the groundwork for NASA to send a robotic probe there to collect and eventually return its first sample of asteroid debris some two decades later.
An engineering firm hired by the University of Central Florida, which manages the NSF observatory under a $ 20 million five-year agreement, concluded in a report to the university last week “that if an additional trunk cable fails, a catastrophic collapse of the entire structure will soon follow ”.
Citing safety concerns, the firm ruled out efforts to repair the observatory and recommended a controlled demolition.