Damage at the Arecibo SETI telescope after the first cable bust in August. Credit: University of Central Florida

What Is Happening At The Alien-Hunting SETI Telescope?

Is the Arecibo SETI Telescope at risk of collapse?

Few people can say that 2020 has been a good year for them. While the Alien-Hunting SETI Telescope is definitely not a human being, disaster has now struck the famous observatory not once, not twice, but three times this year. Simply said, this has been a terrible year for the facility which will likely interfere with their work and progress for many months to come or worse. Before we get to the actual negative events, here is a quick insight into the background of the facility, in case you are unfamiliar.

The Arecibo Observatory was erected in Puerto Rico (Caribbean islands, Latin America) in the 60s of the 20th century and is an astronomical observatory, but not quite in the usual sense of the word – it is a radio telescope. Visible light coming to us from all corners of the Universe is far from a complete stream of information that we can receive from space.

An important part of it falls on the radio wave range of electromagnetic radiation. Radio telescopes are engaged in capturing such space information, which, by and large, are just huge “radio dishes”, smaller copies of which we can see on residential buildings to provide TV air. And it is precisely in the diameter of the “dish”, which is 305 meters, that the Arecibo radio telescope holds the record among radio astronomy observatories in the world.

The antenna bowl is statically built into the mountain range, its depth is 51 meters, the area is 73,000 m2. Above the Arecibo “saucer”, an eight-hundred-ton movable radiator is suspended on cables, collecting or emitting radio waves. And now that we mentioned the cables, here is where the disasters struck throughout this year. 

Unexpected Damage at the Arecibo SETI Telescope – August 2020

In early August this year, it was announced that the Alien-Hunting SETI Telescope will not work for at least three months due to damage caused by unknown reasons. Here is what we know.

It was announced that the Arecibo Observatory’s radio telescope antenna was damaged by a snapped cable supporting a metal platform above the telescope bowl. The cable punched a hole in the main antenna and damaged the elements of the feed hanging above it. While this was disastrous enough to stop the facility from working for at least three months, this past week has been even more devastating.

November 2020 – New Damage Reports

A second main cable of the SETI telescope has burst on November 6. The destruction of the cable led to new damage to its antenna and this is the second cable to break in three months. This was reported just a few days ago.

It is assumed that this was due to an increase in the load on the cables; earlier, breaks of individual fibers in the cable were already noticed, but the engineers did not have time to carry out emergency repairs. In the near future, experts are to install steel reinforcement to reduce the load on the remaining ropes, as well as expedite the delivery of two new ropes.

Observations at the observatory were temporarily suspended, while scientists are processing the data already received. However, nobody expected that a few days later, there will be new problems to worry about. 

New information was released yesterday by National Geographic claiming that there is a high risk that the Alien-Hunting SETI Telescope could collapse entirely. The loss of two of the main cables of the facility could potentially lead to a chain reaction that could destroy all remaining cables that are currently under increased pressure.

The following days will be crucial for the future of the Arecibo SETI telescope and we all hope that experts will find a way out before disaster strikes. Based on the observatory director, the chances of a collapse are currently 50%. We can only wait for more news about the facility.

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Written by Vladislav Tchakarov

Hello, my name is Vladislav and I am glad to have you here on Curiosmos. My experience as a freelance writer began in 2018 but I have been part of the Curiosmos family since mid-2020. As a history student, I have a strong passion for history and science, and the opportunity to research and write in this field on a daily basis is a dream come true.

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