November 30, 2020

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Risk of collapse of the Arecibo radio telescope increases


Three engineering companies warned of an increased risk of a collapse of the strategic Arecibo Observatory, in northern Puerto Rico, which houses the world’s largest fully operational radio telescope, after another cable holding the structure broke.

In a statement, the Central Florida University (UCF), administrator of the observatory, indicated this Saturday that other breaks have also been observed in two of the remaining main cables, which support a load of 900 tons.

“Each of the remaining cables in the structure now supports more weight than before, which increases the probability of another cable failure and would result in the collapse of the entire structure,” they say in the statement.

The three engineering firms hired and assessing the damage are Thornton Tomasetti, WSP and WJE (Wiss, Janney and Elstner Associates).

They have been working since the first auxiliary cable broke on August 10, but since the second incident occurred on November 6, they have been working “day and night”.

A monitoring team has been closely watching all the cables and the platform, and drones and remote cameras are being used to minimize risk, UCF stressed.

Preliminary analysis indicates that the main cable that failed on November 6 “should have easily handled the additional load based on design capacity.”

Engineers suspect “the second cable is likely to have failed because it has degraded over time and has been carrying an additional load since August,” UCF stressed.

Engineering companies are unable to verify the integrity of the other cables supporting the 900-ton platform at this time due to the instability of the structure.

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) owns the facility, which has been notified of the issues as evaluations continue.

The Arecibo Observatory has one of the largest single-dish radio telescopes in the world.

It was built in 1963 with funds from the US Department of Defense, taking advantage of its proximity to the equator and that the geographic space where it was built, surrounded by mountains, protects its immense reflector plate from hurricanes.

The product of an initiative by Cornell University in New York to study the ionosphere, the observatory has a huge radar that emits waves that are bounced off by astronomical bodies.



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