World’s second largest radio telescope damaged by Hurricane Maria
Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico last week, also damaged the Arecibo Observatory. According to preliminary estimates, losses amount to several million dollars. Currently, the radio telescope is out of service and it is unclear when it will be restarted.
A radio telescope near Arecibo in póThe northwestern Puerto Rico observatory is the second largest of its kind in the world. Its canopy is 305 meters in diameterów. Until 2016, it was the largest radio telescope with a single canopy. Currently, the title of the largest has gone to China’s FAST radio telescope, whichóhe canopy of which has a diameter of 500 metersów.
Hurricane Maria caused severe damage across the island. In Puerto Rico alone, it led to the deaths of 18 peopleób. At the time it hit the island, Maria was a category four on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale. Winds reached speeds close to 200 kilometersów per hour. The hurricane has suffered significant degradation and is now heading toward the British Isles.
Before the hurricane hit, most personnel were evacuated from the radio telescope, but a handful of scientistsów has been left to monitor the situation in real time. They were well stocked with enough water and food supplies to last them a week. They were also supplied with thousands of litersóin the diesel generatorów.
Before Maria hit the island, staff did everything in their power to protect the radio telescope from the hurricane. The antennas have been dismantled (those thatóre could be dislodged) and waveguides, blocking the moving parts of the instrumentóIn the scientific, storm shutters have been installed in the windows of the control room. However, it was not without damage.
Operators and scientists whoóThose who stayed on the spot were not hurt. The buildings of the radio telescope served as shelter for locals during the elemental. However, contact with researchers on site is now severely hampered. Roads leading to the observatory are impassable. Telephones are not working, complicating communications and rescue efforts. Most of the island is still without electricity. Heavy rains have caused flooding. There was a threat of landslides in many places. In someóhe green parts of Maria Island have damaged 80 percent of the. buildingów.
According to preliminary reports, the hurricane severely damaged the smaller 12-meter canopy of the radio telescope and caused significant damage to the canopy of the mainów some. The wind tore out about 20 aluminum panels measuring 1×2 meters, from which theóThe construction of which is built. The róAlso the sheathing of the canopy itself. From the receiver suspended 150 metersóAn antenna used to study the góof the atmospheric layers, whichóra hit the canopy, puncturing it in several places, although the receiver itself, the observatory’s most sensitive device, appears intact.
The roofs of someórych buildingóin belonging to the observatory were torn down. The catchment area under the headóThe structure was flooded. On top of that, fallen trees lie all over the observatory site. Some of the buildingsóin was also flooded damaging the equipment stored in them.
An estimate of the damage will still have to wait, but it is already clear that the radio telescope will be out of service for at least several months. John Mathews of Pennsylvania State University estimated that the antenna itself, whichóra fell on the canopy, will cost at least several millionóin dollarsów.
Scientists associated with the Arecibo Observatory are full of concern that the damage caused by Maria will threaten the existence of the radio telescope. Already earlier móIt was reported that the National Science Foundation (NSF) – US government agency, whichóra mostly funds the operation of the radio telescope, intends to reduce grants to Arecibo. – I am afraid that if the damage is high, it will provide a starting point for the NSF to withdraw from funding the radio telescope – admitted Mathews.
NSF is focusing on building and operating new observatorióin (m.in. Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope in Hawaii or the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope in Chile) and would be happy to do away with the need to fund a radio telescope thatóry yearly costs it $8.3 millionów (NASA is contributing another $3.6 millionów). The destruction caused by Maria may be a good excuse for this. In the face of recent budget cuts by the Donald Trump administration, the NFS must seek savings of $40 millionów annually.
Arecibo Observatory was put into operation in 1963. Since then, the radio telescope has been overhauled and improved several times. It is now a multipurpose facility. It can operate as a passive radio telescope, but róalso as a radar. It has made many important scientific discoveries. In 1968 the first provód of the existence of neutron stars. In 1974, Russel Hulse and Josep Tylor rów also at the Arecibo Observatory discovered the first subójny pulsar systemów and with its help confirmed the correctness of the theory of relativity, for which póThey were later honored with a Nobel Prize. There is also a Polish thread associated with this radio telescope. 1990 Aleksander Wolszczan together with Dale Frail discovered the first extrasolar planets with this radio telescope.
Sourceóbackground: Science, National Geographic, fot. Jaro Nemčok/CC BY 3.0/Wikimedia Commons