Hurricane Damages Arecibo Radio Telescope

Arecibo Observatory

(Source: National Geographic via Eric WD8RIF)

Hurricane Damages Giant Radio Telescope—Why It Matters” at National Geographic, written by the daughter of Frank Drake, pioneer SETI investigator:

Scientists and ham radio operators have confirmed that the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico—arguably the world’s most iconic radio telescope, which has a dish stretching a thousand feet across—has come through Hurricane Maria mostly intact, but with some significant damage.

More importantly, the observatory’s staff sheltering on-site are safe, and the facility is in good enough condition to potentially serve as a local center for the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, reports Arecibo deputy director Joan Schmelz.

Because of its deep water well and generator, the observatory has been a place for those in nearby towns to gather, shower, and cook after past hurricanes. It also has an on-site helicopter landing pad, so making sure the facility is safe in general is not just of scientific importance, but is also relevant for local relief efforts.

News about the facility has been primarily coming from Arecibo telescope operator Ángel Vazquez, who managed to get to the site and start communicating via short-wave radio in the early evening of September 21.

According to initial reports, the hurricane damaged a smaller, 12-meter dish and it caused substantial damage to the main dish, including about 20 surface tiles that were knocked loose.

Also because of the storm, a 96-foot line feed antenna—which helps focus, receive, and transmit radio waves—broke in half and fell about 500 feet into the huge dish below, puncturing it in several places, says Pennsylvania State University’s Jim Breakall, who talked with Vazquez.[…]

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