A giant US space telescope embedded deep in the Puerto Rican jungle is shut down after two devastating mishaps in recent months, ending 57 years of astronomical discoveries.
The Arecibo Observatory, one of the largest in the world, ceased operations in August when one of its support cables slipped out of its socket and plunged a 30-meter-long hole into the 305-meter wide observatory. Reflector shell.
Earlier this month, another cable broke, tore a new hole in the bowl, and damaged nearby cables as engineers struggled to come up with a plan to preserve the crippled structure.
The construction site accidents – also known as the location of the James Bond film GoldenEye and Contact with Jodie Foster – prompted the US National Science Foundation (NSF), an independent government agency, to buy time for the facility.
“NSF has concluded that this latest damage to the 305-meter telescope cannot be repaired without endangering the lives and safety of work teams and employees,” said Sean Jones, assistant director, Mathematics and Physics at NSF, on Thursday.
“NSF has decided to begin planning a controlled shutdown,” said Jones.
According to an NSF spokesman, the engineers have not yet determined the cause of the initial cable failure.
The huge reflector bowl of the observatory and a 137 m high structure weighing 816 tons hang in the humid forests of Arecibo. Puerto Rico, has been used for decades by scientists and astronomers around the world to analyze distant planets, find potentially dangerous asteroids, and look for signatures of extraterrestrial life.
The telescope was instrumental in the discovery of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in 1999, which laid the foundation for NASA to send a robotic probe there to collect and finally return its first asteroid dirt sample about two decades later.
An engineering firm hired by the University of Central Florida to manage the observatory for NSF under a $ 20 million five-year contract concluded in a report to the university last week that a failure of an additional trunk cable would cause a catastrophic breakdown of the whole Cable structure will follow soon ”.
Citing safety concerns, the company ruled out efforts to repair the observatory and recommended a controlled demolition.