This week, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico – an iconic facility made by popular films Get in touch at Gold eyes – the observations of the Universe must be stopped after a structural cable fails, punching a hole in the dish equal reflector of the facility. Observatory operators say the overall facility is almost in order, but they are working to figure out exactly what went wrong.
“Most of the major reflectors are in good shape, but our focus is on ensuring that the platform has the structural structure necessary to operate in the near future,”; said Francisco Cordova, director of the observatory at the University of Central Florida. , said during a press call.
Early Monday morning, one of the cables that helped to maintain a large metal platform in the seized area. The end of the cable slipped from one of its sockets, causing a three-inch wide cord to ground. The incident destroyed approximately 250 panels made up of the main reflector dish, creating a 100-foot long gap in the structure. The accident slightly damaged the panels on the large Gregorian dome above the observatory, a white golf ball-shaped structure with reflective houses that helps direct sky observations.
The damage photos make it particularly unattractive, but Arecibo’s main reflector dish consists of 40,000 panels – which makes very little of a general breakdown. However, the observatory may not function at full capacity. Typically, Arecibo runs and operates 24/7, with observations typically taking place between 3:00 and 7AM per day, according to Cordova. A UCF sent a note to all Arecibo users, telling them that the observations were held for at least a fortnight. However, the team does not know how long it will take to repair the damage – or how much it will cost.
“These cables are very customizable for this particular application,” Cordova said. “So they take, you know, a little time to make and send and install them.” They expect to have more information by the end of next week, he said. The Arecibo Observatory is funded by the National Science Foundation.
So far, UCF operators are launching an investigation into the incident, as they do not yet know why the cable snapped. “It certainly hasn’t happened yet,” Cordova said. “These cables are expected to last at least another 15, 20 years at least.” The broken cable was installed more than 20 years ago, Cordova said, when the Gregorian dome was added to the facility. Investigators are still trying to determine the source of the failure. “We have almost started this effort,” Ray Lugo, director of UCF’s Florida Space Institute and its chief executive, told the conference. “Our focus now is on making sure we protect our people, and the unique equipment and facilities we have here.”
Not only has Arecibo been featured in many films, but the observatory is also critical for many deep space observations, used to search for strange cosmic objects and events such as pulsars, explosions radio waves, and more. The dish is also helpful for defending the planet, helping NASA find potentially dangerous near-Earth asteroids that could pose a threat to our planet. Arecibo is also receiving attention for its involvement in Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). As part of that project, it examines the sky for potential radio transmissions from intelligent creatures.
Arecibo has also weathered many hurricanes – both figuratively and literally – over the last few years, and UCF is confident it will only be a small delay. “We are a pretty elastic bunch … I think we have proven that after the impact of Hurricane Maria,” Cordova said. “We’ve been kind of tested again on a few earthquakes and then tested again with this pandemic and now, it’s another bump on the road.”