The large bowl of Arecibo Observatory has reached the end of the line

The large bowl of Arecibo Observatory has reached the end of the line
Make it bigger / An aerial view of the Arecibo feature shows the increasingly weak cables supporting the equipment platform, as well as the cause of the gas when one of them failed.

Today, the National Science Foundation announced that its famous Arecibo Radio Observatory will be closed. Built on a hilltop in Puerto Rico, the main bowl of the observatory is over 300 meters, and its huge size makes it one. Features in popular culture From James Bond movies to video games. But despite a long history of scientific contributions, the Observatory has been struggling for funding for more than a decade, and the two cables that support it have failed this year, leaving it in a precarious position.

After studying engineering and finding that there was no way to repair hardware without putting workers at risk, the NSF decided to close the observatory.

More than a large bowl

Although the uniform scale of the main dish at Arecibo attracted the most attention, the dish was perfectly reflective. The real commercial end of the telescope, where radio waves were experienced, was an instrument platform that was suspended high above it by star cables through three towers. The instrument platform had a receiver that could be sent to different locations on the disk, allowing it to handle signals from more than one designated dish.

Since its inception in the 1960s, the Observatory has been involved in a number of discoveries, mainly in the field of pulsars, a series of radio-emitting neutron stars. It has also been involved in Seti discoveries, and transmitted an image into a star cluster under the assumption that any intelligent life could participate in its own Seti program. But in the last 15 years or more, the NSF, Aresibo’s mainstay of support, has cut its funding for the authority, which has struggled to maintain full functioning during this period.

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But it wasn’t the money that ultimately ruined Arecibo; Instead, it was a resource platform. In August of this year, an auxiliary ables that help stop the platform produce a gas in the radio-reflective bowl below. While plans were being made to replace that cable and repair the dish – replacement cables were already in order – a 7.5 cm. One of the main cables was badly damaged on November 6.

An engineering analysis later determined that the cable failure occurred despite the fact that the pressure on it was only 60 percent which should be its minimum strength. This raised serious questions about the stability of the rest of the cables and thus the ability of the structure to support its instrument platform. The analysis concluded that it was unsafe to detect; The platform can collapse without warning, and any broken cable towers pose a threat to any worker, as large cables run very fast after a break. Two of the three additional engineering firms consulted by the NSF and the University of Central Florida agree with this assessment.

Ralph Gaume of the NSF said, “Until these assessments come, our question was not how to repair the agarshala but how. “But in the end, the spread of statistics showed that we couldn’t do it safely. And that’s the line we can’t cross.”

The end is near

At the moment, the NSF is simply announcing that it will begin planning the denomination process. Work was already underway to move data archives from the tool to the cloud service, and plans to safely remove the platform would obviously include many more engineering analytics. The NSF said several other scientific programs linked to the site would remain open. The Observatory also serves as the main point of contact between the scientific community and the Puerto Rican community – understanding how to maintain this dynamic in the absence of an active resource will require further study.

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It is difficult to argue with risk analysis. And it’s not hard to imagine that more sophisticated and flexible mechanics can achieve what we expect from Arsibo at a lower price, which explains why Arecibo has been struggling for funding for a decade. Given these two factors, it is clear that the time has come for Arecibo.

But it’s still hard to accept the loss of such an icon.

Raven Weber

About the author: Raven Weber

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