The collapse of the famous radio telescope in Arecibo Observatory In Puerto Rico last month, astronomers were left with a bunch of questions about what went wrong and what next.
During a virtual event at City Hall held at 237th Congress of the American Astronomical Society On Monday (Jan.11), officials at the National Science Foundation (NSF), which owns the facility, provided a more detailed account up to the date of the events that led to Uncontrolled collapse of the telescope On December 1.
The event was the agency’s first presentation targeting researchers since the facility’s collapse, and officials have confirmed their association with it Scientists around the world who have ties to Arecibo. “We at NSF are very grateful that the safety zones were adequate and that no one was physically harmed,” Ashley Zudderer, Arecibo Observatory Program Director at NSF, said during the presentation.
“I say ‘physically injured’ because we want to communicate clearly that we understand that this is a very painful event, and it has affected so many people,” said Zoderer. “There is a lot of harm.”
Zodrier’s comments focused on giving astronomers a detailed sense of the events surrounding the crash, with a timeline beginning in 2017, when Hurricane Irma and Maria Hit Puerto Rico. The facility was preparing to begin repair work on the damage caused when a cable broke down in August. (Hurricane repairs included replacing another cable connected to a different support tower than the cables that eventually failed with the breakdown scenario.)
But then, before dawn on August 10, one of the huge cables holding a science platform weighing 900 tons slid out of its socket. Engineers assessed the situation, decided that the structure should remain stable, and began devising a repair strategy. Meanwhile, an investigation has begun into what went wrong, Zoderer said.
“This failed socket was removed and sent to the NASA Kennedy Forensic Laboratory in early October to try to understand why that failed and then to help us understand what other plugs are potentially vulnerable as well,” she said.
Once again, a repair plan was put together and the facility prepared to start work only to face disaster again, when another cable connected to the tower itself broke on November 6. In the wake of a second failure, NSF concluded that there is no safe way to Stabilization or salvage of the facility It began evaluating ways to shut down the telescope in a controlled manner, a decision it announced on November 19, though Zoderer told the assembled astronomers that NSF was still hopeful.
She said, “Although we have said that we are planning to stop the service at that point, we are still looking for more information, so that if new information appears that there is a safe way to repair the telescope, we are ready to switch.”
This transformation was never possible. The platform collapsed through a 1,000-foot (305 meters) dish below it on December 1, destroying the radio telescope.
“This is not what any of us wanted,” Zoderer said. The National Salvation Front has worked hard since August to enable a stabilization plan.
The future of the site remains unknown Congress joined the astronomers And Puerto Ricans to request an update about the facility – what happened, what NSF wants to do with the observatory and associated cost estimates – by the end of February. The order comes as part of A comprehensive bill funding the agency During this fiscal year ending on September 30th; Ralph Gayoom, director of the NSF’s Department of Astronomy, referred to the Congressional request through City Hall but did not provide details on how the NSF would implement it.
Zoderer told Space.com that teams were starting to evaluate how to safely clean the site on the day of the crash. “The work is going very aggressively, but it will take a long time due to the amount of debris and the need to proceed safely with appropriate environmental protection measures,” she wrote.
But Zoderer noted during the show that the collapse did not completely destroy the radio telescope’s iconic dish. “About 50% of the inverter is still intact,” she said. “We are studying, at this stage, the balance between the pros and cons of retaining the fragment, rebuilding or what can be done with it.”
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