Iconic Arecibo Observatory undergoing detailed structural inspections

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, as seen before a cable failure last month that damaged the facility’s dish antenna. Image: University of Central Florida

The iconic Arecibo Observatory remains off line pending completion of a detailed structural analysis and safety assessment in the wake of a cable failure last month that damaged the huge radio telescope’s stationary dish antenna and its Gregorian Dome sub-reflector. The analysis is expected to help engineers pin down what caused the cable break and to identify any other problem areas that might need attention.

“We know the process is taking a long time and we are eager to begin repairs,” said Francisco Cordova, the observatory’s director. “However, this is a big and complex facility, so it is taking some time to ensure we are doing things right. We have to be sure we are taking all factors into consideration before moving forward with putting people on the telescope to remove (damaged) pieces. Once those are in hand, we expect the timeline to pick up the pace.”

A view beneath the Arecibo radio telescope dish shows the damaged caused when a support cable failed. Image: University of Central Florida

The observatory was damaged 10 August when a 3-inch-wide cable snapped and fell, damaging a half-dozen panels in the Gregorian Dome sub-reflector and ripping a long gash in the main antenna. Engineers are carrying out a detailed safety analysis before retrieving the failed components for forensic inspections. After that, a repair plan will be developed.

Computer modelling is being employed for a structural analysis that should help pin down what caused the cable failure and “whether other areas of the telescope are at higher risk as a result of the break,” the University of Central Florida, which helps manage the facility, said in a statement. “This modeling will help frame the scope of repairs, along with costs and schedule.”