One of the world’s most prominent astronomical observatories has a hole.
On Monday, a 3-inch (76 mm thick) cable broke at the Arecibo Observatory, tearing a 30-meter-long cord in the reflection bowl of the 20-acre radio telescope in Puerto Rico.
The observatory had just reopened after a temporary shutdown due to Tropical Storm Isaias when the cable, which helped support a metal platform, closed at 2:45 ET.
Now the facility is closed again when engineers assess the damage, according to the University of Central Florida, a co-operator of the telescope.
It was not immediately clear how the cable broke or if the damage was related to Isaias.
Astronomers use the telescope to study dangerous asteroids as they fly past Earth, hoping to identify space rocks on a collision orbit early enough to intervene before striking.
Researchers have also used Arecibo to search for signs of intelligent extraterrestrial life. In 1
Since 2016, the telescope has discovered the first repeated rapid radio deficiencies – mysterious space signals of unknown origin.
The fall of the cable also damaged six to eight panels in the telescope’s Gregorian dome: the part that focuses the radiation to the points in space that astronomers want to study. It also rotates the platform to access the dome.
“We have a team of experts assessing the situation,” said Francisco Cordova, the observer’s chief, in a statement.
“Our focus is to ensure the safety of our staff, protect the facilities and equipment, and restore the facility to full operation as soon as possible so that it can continue to assist researchers around the world.”
Tropical Storm Isaias passed over Puerto Rico on July 30, before developing into a hurricane, which led observer operators to shut down the facility for a few days.
They turned on it earlier this month to study a potentially dangerous asteroid the size of five football fields, which passed the earth at an optimal distance for the observatory to check it out.
NASA had previously calculated the chance 1 in 70,000 that space rock could affect our planet between 2086 and 2101, so astronomers wanted to track it more closely to better calculate the odds of an impact.
But when a team at Arecibo trained the telescope at the asteroid to determine its shape and orbit, they discovered that it would probably not pass close enough to Earth to pose a threat in the future.
During these observations, the telescope worked well.
“Fortunately, the storm passed quickly without damage to the telescope or radar system, and the maintenance and electronics teams were able to activate the telescope from the hurricane shutdown in time for the observations,” Sean Marshall, an observer researcher who led the radar observations team, said at the time.
This article was originally published by Business Insider.
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