At the beginning of this week, the sad news of the collapse and destruction of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, also known as the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center, was released. a powerful telescope suspended on a structure suspended in the air. And it is that despite the fact that this work of engineering had managed to remain stable for years, the latest damage to the clamping cables ended up resulting in irreparable damage that already pointed to this inevitable outcome.
This is the reason why, despite not knowing when this fall would occur, the operators of the Operations Control Center of Arecibo were able to capture on video the exact moment of the collapse of this structure of 900 tons and more than 300 meters in diameter, coinciding with the flight of a drone that sought to analyze the fault in greater detail, capturing the exact moment of the crash.
The footage highlights the moment several cables broke, causing the platform to swing outward and hit the side of the plate. And it is that the collapse of the main structure also caused the demolition of part of the three support towers that surrounded the installation, from where the steel cables that kept the platform in the air hung.
Now NSF is trying to find a way forward, which mostly revolves around figuring out how to clean the Arecibo Observatory area safely. Engineers must conduct a full environmental assessment of the area and determine how stable the remaining structures are.
Replacing Arecibo would be a much longer process, which would involve decisions by legislators. “Regarding replacement, the NSF has a very well defined process for funding and building large-scale infrastructure – including telescopes,” stated Ralph Gaume, director of the NSF’s division of astronomical sciences, “It is a multi-year process involving congressional appropriations and assessment and needs of the scientific community. So it’s too early for us to comment on the replacement.
A fall that will resonate throughout the Milky Way
With a history of more than 6 decades, this radio telescope has achieved Capture bursts from the Milky Way thousands of light-years away. But his job was not only to listen, but also served as a platform to send signals. In an act of demonstration of its capabilities when it was inaugurated, I sent a message to the edge of our galaxy, the famous Arecibo Message, a basic code that tries to encapsulate the most important information about who we are, where we are and what we want.
However, although the National Science Foundation may possibly work to rebuild the Arecibo Observatory, for the moment China has already taken on its role in its absence. And it is that inaugurated during this same year, the FAST radio telescope currently stands up as the largest astronomical structure made by humans, with 500 meters in diameter, and a greater power that will allow to capture and send better signals.