Astrophysics group upset by impending closure of famend Puerto Rico-based telescope


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The Nationwide Science Basis introduced Thursday that it’s going to shut the large telescope on the famend Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico in a blow to scientists worldwide who rely upon it to seek for planets, asteroids and extraterrestrial life.

The unbiased, federally funded company mentioned it’s too harmful to maintain working the only dish radio telescope — one of many world’s largest — given the numerous injury it not too long ago sustained. An auxiliary cable broke in August and tore a 100-foot gap within the reflector dish and broken the dome above it. Then on Nov. 6, one of many telescope’s fundamental metal cables snapped, inflicting additional injury and main officers to warn that your entire construction may collapse.

NSF officers famous that even when crews have been to restore all of the injury, engineers discovered that the construction would nonetheless be unstable in the long run.

“This determination is just not a simple one for NSF to make, however the security of individuals is our primary precedence,” mentioned Sean Jones, the company’s assistant director for the Mathematical and Bodily Sciences Directorate. “We perceive how a lot Arecibo means to this group and to Puerto Rico.”

He mentioned the aim was to protect the telescope with out putting individuals in danger, however, “we now have discovered no path ahead to permit us to take action safely.”

The telescope was constructed within the Nineteen Sixties with cash from the Protection Division amid a push to develop anti-ballistic missile defenses. In its 57 years of operation, it endured hurricanes, countless humidity and a latest string of robust earthquakes.

The telescope boasts a 1,000-foot-wide (305-meter-wide) dish featured within the Jodie Foster movie “Contact” and the James Bond film “GoldenEye.” Scientists worldwide have used the dish together with the 900-ton platform hanging 450 ft above it to trace asteroids on a path to Earth, conduct analysis that led to a Nobel Prize and decide if a planet is doubtlessly liveable.

Alex Wolszczan, a Polish-born astronomer and professor at Pennsylvania State College who helped uncover the primary extrasolar and pulsar planets, advised The Related Press that whereas the information wasn’t shocking, it was disappointing. He labored on the telescope within the Eighties and early Nineteen Nineties

“I hoped in opposition to hope that they’d give you some sort of answer to maintain it open,” he mentioned. “For an individual who has had a variety of his scientific life related to that telescope, this can be a reasonably fascinating and sadly emotional second.”

Ralph Gaume, director of NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences, confused that the choice has nothing to do with the observatory’s capabilities, which have allowed scientists to review pulsars to detect gravitational waves in addition to seek for impartial hydrogen, which might reveal how sure cosmic constructions are fashioned.

“The telescope is at the moment at critical threat of sudden, uncontrolled collapse,” he mentioned. “Even makes an attempt at stabilization or testing the cables may end in accelerating the catastrophic failure.”

Officers suspect a possible manufacturing error is in charge for the auxiliary cable that snapped, however say they’re stunned {that a} fundamental cable broke about three months later on condition that it was supporting solely about 60% of its capability. Engineers had assessed the scenario after the primary cable broke, noting that about 12 of the roughly 160 wires of the second cable that ultimately broke had already snapped, mentioned Ashley Zauderer, program officer for Arecibo Observatory at NSF.

“It was recognized as a problem that wanted to be addressed, but it surely wasn’t seen as a direct menace,” she mentioned.

The information saddened most of the greater than 250 scientists which have used a telescope that can be thought-about one in every of Puerto Rico’s fundamental vacationer points of interest, drawing some 90,000 guests a 12 months. It additionally has lengthy served as a coaching floor for a whole lot of graduate college students.

The NSF mentioned it intends to revive operations on the observatory’s remaining belongings together with its two LIDAR amenities, one in every of which is situated within the close by island of Culebra. These are used for higher atmospheric and ionospheric analysis, together with analyzing cloud cowl and precipitation knowledge. Officers additionally purpose to renew operations on the customer middle.

Wolszczan, the astronomer, mentioned the worth of the telescope received’t immediately disappear for him and lots of different scientists as a result of they’re nonetheless engaged on initiatives based mostly on observations and knowledge taken from the observatory.

“The method of claiming goodbye to Arecibo will definitely take some years,” he mentioned. “It received’t be instantaneous.”

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