Puerto Rican Observatory at Risk of Extensive Damage after Cable Failures

The cables that are supporting the 900-ton platform are failing one by one.
Derya Ozdemir

Back in August 2020, a broken cable snapped and tore open a 100-foot hole in Arecibo Observatory's gargantuan dish. Following the accident, another main cable snapped on November 6, leaving the 900-ton platform located directly above the dish now only supported by the remaining cables which are already fraying, according to the report by the University of Central Florida (UCF).

Puerto Rican Observatory at Risk of Extensive Damage after Cable Failures
The aftermath of a cable failure in August 2020. Source: UCF/AO

The last week's accident came as a surprise since, after the accident in August, officials had inspected the structure and decided it could handle the shift in weight, reports the AP. The steel cable, which was originally capable of sustaining 1.2 million pounds (544,000 kilograms), snapped under only 624,000 pounds (283,000 kilograms). 

These accidents spell danger for the renowned telescope that has facilitated scientists in their search for aliens and asteroids since its construction in 1960.


Scientists say time is running out

UCF engineers that are delivering engineering options to the observatory are trying to determine the cause of failures and assessing the observatory's condition with drones and remote cameras. In their report, UCF wrote in a statement Friday that the second cable failed because "it has degraded over time and has been carrying extra load since August", and they will be continuing the investigating process.

The needed new cables are expected to arrive next month; however, scientists are warning that time is running out since the cables left are now doing more work to support the 900-ton platform, per Gizmodo.

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UCF wrote, "Each of the structure's remaining cables is now supporting more weight than before, increasing the likelihood of another cable failure, which would likely result in the collapse of the entire structure."

The university officials also stated that there were wire breaks on two of the remaining main cables noticed by the crew, which is the reason why employees and contractors are relying on drones and remote cameras.

There is an estimated damage of more than $12 million, and according to the officials. The funding for repairs has not been worked out yet with federal agencies, reports the AP.

A number of options for stabilizing the situation with temporary repairs have been put together, and the observatory is awaiting a word from the National Science Foundation, which owns the facility, on what to do next.

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