The collapse of the Arecibo observatory caused by a manufacturing problem?

This is the news that shook the scientific community in December 2020 . Last month, the Arecibo observatory which had been held in Puerto Rico (United States) since 1963 collapsed . Before this unfortunate event occurred, we first witnessed the rupture of one of the observatory's steel cables in August 2020. Then, in November 2020, a second cable broke.

Following this, the US National Science Foundation (NSF) announced that the platform was too unstable to undergo repairs. She then decided to uninstall the infrastructure. Yet before that could be done the observatory collapsed .

The Collapse Of The Arecibo Observatory Caused By A Manufacturing Problem
The Arecibo radio telescope – Google Maps credits

Subsequently, investigations were opened to determine the causes of this collapse. They are still ongoing, but clues are already starting to emerge.

A manufacturing problem with the cables?

The first elements that emerge from these investigations suggest that the collapse of the observatory was caused by a manufacturing problem. The first investigation focused on the auxiliary cables which fitted the structure. There are 12 of them and were installed in the 1990s.

The cable that broke in August 2020 was part of that set.

“Preliminary investigations revealed that there was a manufacturing defect in these cables – the placement procedure was not performed correctly and this led to advanced degradation of this structural element. But the final judicial investigation is still to be completed, ” explained Francisco Cordova, director of the observatory.

What about the results of the second survey?

The second survey focuses on the main cables. Their installation dates back to the construction of the observatory in the 1960s. It was one of those cables that broke in November 2020. According to the engineers, this should not have happened.

Indeed, the cable in question carried only 60% of the load that it would have been able to support. For now, engineers are awaiting the final results of this investigation. They are currently busy at the site of the collapse to collect debris that could help them complete the ongoing investigations.

According to Francisco Cordova, the staff working there are also trying to collect debris that is believed to be of historical importance.

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