May 15, 2021

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The causes of failure at the Arecibo Observatory are uncertain


The director of the Arecibo Observatory, Francisco Córdova, indicated today that it is still uncertain the cause of the detachment of one of the auxiliary support cables from its mooring point causing damage to the main reflector.

The official detailed during a virtual conference that it is an unusual and unexpected failure that occurred during normal operations that has been consulted with five expert companies in the installation of this type of cable of the construction and engineering industry which have not been able to establish at present what happened.

“The failure took us all by surprise not in the sense that the cable has broken, but simply the point of The mooring was the one that failed where the cable was released from the mooring, this caused the cable to fall from the tower and impact the primary receiver, ”said Córdova.

There are 11 other similar cables that were added The structure was built about 25 years ago to support it after the installation of the Gregorian dome that weighs more than 225 thousand tons which ironically are the newest, which must last for 50 years. according to manufacturer.

The cable created a crack almost 100 feet long in a section of the Arecibo Observatory dish.

Córdova indicated that it is too premature to specify the time it will take to repair or its cost although he clarified that it is not a problem that will permanently impact them.

He stated that they are working with the stabilization of the platform, without any movement, to place it in a position that relieves that structural load that connects with tower number 4, while the failure is analyzed and corrected. The receivers and radars were not affected.

“We do not know what the total estimate will be, obviously we know that we have to replace that cable and we are already obtaining quotes and calculating the total time it would take to to do that installation, but our priority now is to stabilize this structure, so what we want is to get other temporary cables, they are much smaller cables, they are easier to handle and although they hold less load it would give us enough to stabilize the structure ”, he said.

It is estimated that its installation could occur after five to six weeks, once the cables are acquired and sent to the island, while the average time for an auxiliary cable is estimated to be three to four months. .

“These cables are not standard, they are not made since someone has them in inventory, they are cables that have to be created, the supports that hold those cables have to be created at the moment too, it takes time and they have to be tested later for the resistance that we need, that is, we cannot wait for it to be resolved in even a few weeks, "said Córdova.

He noted that are in the Search for a company that has available some equipment that allows them to inspect the inside of the cables and they have not found any with the level of fidelity that it requires.

“Maintenance is given constantly, visual inspections that are they do in all these towers, in all these cables, unfortunately there is no way to inspect the cable joint from the inside since the thickness is more than nine inches in diameter of different types of metals ”, revealed Córdova.

The cables and their anchors are actively inspected using drones every four hours to make sure there are no other anomalies.

Monday at 2:45 am the detachment of one of the auxiliary support cables caused a 100-foot-long cut in the reflector plate of the telescope, causing damage to 250 to 300 panels of the Gregorian Dome and twisting the platform that gives access to it. No employee was affected at the time of the incident.

Observations made from the telescope remain stopped because it cannot move, however, the scientific community continues to analyze data obtained as results of investigations that have been ongoing for years and it was anticipated that they will continue to publish their findings.

At the moment, the observations of international scientists who were on duty were postponed.

The radio telescope was built in 1963 and the last improvement significant was made with the installation of the Gregorian dome for the 90′s for which the 12 auxiliary cables had to be installed on the sides of the towers to support the weight of their movement.



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