Friday, December 4, 2020

Vid Of The Day -- Arecibo Observatory Collapse

Footage, via the National Science Foundation, of the Arecibo Observatory collapse on December 1:



The iconic radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has collapsed, leaving astronomers and the Puerto Rican scientific community to mourn its demise.

Engineers had warned that the 900-tonne platform suspended above the telescope’s 305-metre-wide dish could fall at any moment, given that one of the main cables supporting it had snapped in early November. Last month, the US National Science Foundation (NSF), which owns the observatory, had announced it would shut down the telescope permanently, citing safety concerns over its instability, and damage too extensive to repair.

The final collapse happened just before 8 a.m. local time on 1 December. No one was injured.

Drone footage of the collapse, released by the NSF two days later, shows cables snapping at the top of one of the three towers from which the instrument platform was suspended. The platform plummets downward and crashes into the side of the dish. The tops of all three towers also snap off.

Prior to the failure, engineers had been exploring options to relieve some of the tension in the cables, including by relaxing other support cables to tilt the towers around the dish. The NSF had not yet decided to move forward with that plan when the platform collapsed.  [snip]

Once the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope, the Arecibo facility has been the site of many key astronomical discoveries over the years, including observations of the spinning stars known as pulsars that led to the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics. Before its collapse, astronomers were using the telescope for a number of scientific studies, including radar assessments of near-Earth asteroids, to measure their threat to the planet.

A huge loss, in so many ways.


Anonymous said...

With just a little money, a few hundred thousand a year, it could have been maintained indefinitely. Assuming it received this maintenance from the start and it continued unabated. Instead it got funding and maintenance off and on, and more off than on.

What was that line? From one of the Augustines. Something along the lines of: 'That which I should not that I do; That which I should that I do not'.

What has happened at Arecibo is so very indicative of so many problems. We know what to do, We know how and when to do what we should. We, collectively have the resources. But, somehow, we fail to get the deeds done. And so we lose a valuable resource.

Yes, it can be rebuilt. Possible ending up better than it was. But at a much higher price than it needed to be.

Some of this is simply the blindness of markets. Nobody was going to make a huge pile of cash even if the telescope had been perfectly maintained.

Somw of this is childish inability to focus and follow through on more than one shiny object at a time. Arecibo is just another child's toy left abandoned in the yard. And not father time has run over it with his lawn mower.

W. Hackwhacker said...

Anon -- accurately and beautifully stated!

Infidel753 said...

A sad loss. It has served as well for many, many years, including by monitoring the inner solar system for asteroids whose orbits might present a risk of collision with Earth. Given enough warning time, there are things that could be done to divert such an object before it hit. We're all a little less safe without Arecibo.

W. Hackwhacker said...

Infidel -- correct. Now we're less one important eye keeping watch.