Arecibo’s historic telescope collapses


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The historical Arecibo radio telescope He has not given more of himself. The facility, built in Puerto Rico in 1963, has collapsed after two serious breakdowns seriously jeopardized the integrity of its structure.

The 900-ton platform, where the observatory’s receivers were installed, has collapsed onto the 305-meter reflector dish below.

The news was disclosed by the Puerto Rican meteorologists on the island Ada Monzón and Deborah Martorell, on their social networks, from sources of the observatory employees.

The observatory was scheduled to be demolished in a controlled manner due to the excessive risk to workers posed by its repair.

The Arecibo radio telescope was the largest in the world until the Chinese FAST, 500 meters in diameter, was inaugurated in 2016. The large 900-ton structure was held in the air by two cables. This platform was anchored to three metal towers and suspended above the large parabolic dish that acted as a reflector.

However, on August 10, one of the platform’s tie rods came loose, impacting the lower plate and causing a break of about 30 meters. On November 7, the National Science Foundation (NSF) ordered the damaged cable to be replaced, but before it could be done, another of the tie rods came loose. The reports of the engineers, belonging to the US Army Corps of Engineers, led to the decision to withdraw the observatory, due to the high risk of the structure collapsing during repairs.

What happened had already been foreseen. «The telescope is at serious risk of imminent collapse and out of control, “said Ralph Gaume, director of the NSF Division of Astronomical Sciences. “According to technical reports, even attempts to stabilize or test the cables could accelerate the catastrophic failure. They cannot say what is the safety margin of the structure, but they have warned that it will fall in the near future by itself, “he explained.

Arecibo’s achievements

A sad end for an observatory that has been in operation for 57 years and has been instrumental in several important Nobel Prize-winning discoveries. In 1964, it allowed to precisely determine the period of Mercury, and to change it from 88 to 59 days. It also made it possible to obtain the first evidence for the existence of neutron stars, as well as the discovery of the first binary pulsar and the fastest spinning pulsar.

In 1989, he helped obtain the first direct image of an asteroid and led to the discovery of the PSR B1257 + 12 pulsar, which later made the discovery of the first exoplanets possible. The Arecibo radio telescope has allowed map the distribution of ice in the polar regions of Mercury, the discovery of prebiotic molecules in distant galaxies and the detection of violent bursts of energy.

Planetary defense

In addition to that, in 1974 the Arecibo Message was sent, a radio transmission with the purpose of communicating with aliens, and directed to the globular cluster Messier 13, 25,000 light years away, and which defined a pattern of pixels. During this time, it has also been one of the sources of data for the search for external life projects. This, and his appearance in the novel “Contact,” by the astronomer and popularizer Carl Sagan, made him quite popular with the public.

Arecibo was also especially valuable for its role in planetary defense, finding and tracking asteroids that could get too close to Earth, work that, he told Space.com Anne Virkki, who leads the planetary radar team at the observatory, “is not easily replaceable by other existing facilities and instruments.”

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