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Iconic Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico Faces Severe Damage as Second Cable Breaks in 3 Months

Arecibo observatory | Image credit: Reuters

Arecibo observatory | Image credit: Reuters

Francis Cordova, the director of the observatory, asserted that no one got hurt in either of the accidents.

In a worrisome repetition of an accident at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, another cable has broken away. This is the second such incident this year, causing even more damage to one of the most powerful and largest radio telescopes in the world.

A giant hole had ripped in the facility’s reflector dish in August. A breaking auxiliary cable had caused this accident as it smashed onto the structure. The result was a massive 30 metres (100 feet) long gash.

The people around the observatory immediately grouped together for damage control and the main work was slated to begin this week. Now, on Friday evening (local time), another cable failure occurred at the facility. This second accident is to likely delay and complicated the repair process.

Francis Cordova, the director of the observatory, asserted that no one got hurt in either of the accidents. “We have been thoughtful in our evaluation and prioritised safety in planning for repairs that were supposed to begin Tuesday. Now this,” he said, referring to the second accident. The Arecibo Observatory is operated by University of Central Florida (UCF) on behalf of the National Science Foundation.

The UCF website claims that the second accident might have some relation to the first as both were connected to the same support tower. It is possible that the first break created the strain and the tower could not bear the pressure anymore and the second cable broke loose as well.

The facility employees have kept an open eye on all possible damage since the first damage and assume fraying occurred on the cable due to extra load. They were planning to put emergency stop-guards once the repair work began, unfortunately, the cable broke before that could happen.

Now the focus is on reducing tension on the existing cables. Additional cables will be added to distribute the load. However, that won’t be quite simple as the facility is very old. The Arecibo was built in the 1960s and was once the largest single-aperture radio telescope in the world for some time. It has made many important contributions, including recording and observing distant asteroids, exoplanets, pulsars, radio emissions, or molecules in far-flung galaxies. It is also used by SETI- Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence at NASA.

Though a few superior facilities have propped up (FAST in China), it still remains instrumental to space research. However, due to its age, it’s difficult to assess exactly how damaged it might be internally, until it comes back online fully. It was only just recovering from damaged caused in 2017’s Hurricane Maria and now this is a major blow to its stability. Hopefully, the damage caused can be reversed.


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