The famous Arecibo radio telescope is in danger of collapse



He helped discover the first exoplanets; he provided the first reliable clues to the existence of pulsars; and the data he provided led to at least one Nobel Prize in Physics. The cables that support the giant plate of the instrument broke last week and caused new damage. The aging telescope, built in a natural ground cavity in the hills of Puerto Rico, is 307 meters in diameter. It was the largest radio telescope in the world for decades, before finally losing the scepters of the Chinese FAST telescope, 500 meters in diameter, which was launched in 2016. Despite its years, the Arecibo radio telescope remains valuable due to its high sensitivity. It remains, after all, one of the few radio telescopes that can emit radio waves, in addition to detecting them. It thus serves as a giant radar to track asteroids that could one day threaten Earth. The beginning of the decline came in 2017, when the observatory was hit by Cyclone Maria that swept Puerto Rico. Repair work was still going on when the first cable broke last August. The 13 cm thick rope was one of the auxiliary cables installed in 1994 to support the weight of additional antennas. Part of the giant plate detached after the first cable broke (Source: Arecibo Observatory) The last incident recorded last Friday, it concerns the breaking of one of the 12 main cables that hold the plate suspended by three pillars. Both broken wires were connected to the same pillar, so the other wires now carry extra weight – the telescope plate weighs 900 tons. “We are monitoring the situation and considering all possible options to stabilize the construction. “Our first priority is the health and safety of staff,” said the US National Science Foundation (NSF), which owns the telescope. The observatory has been managed by a consortium led by the University of Central Florida, which requested $ 10.5 million in emergency repairs. “Even if the request is approved, it remains unknown whether the amount will be enough to repair the last damage. Arecibo remains valuable for many areas of astronomy and any loss would cost science,” Campbell said. His field of vision “extends from the stratosphere to the ends of the Universe,” he said. “It would be such a pity to lose it.”



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