For the second time in only a matter of months, a cable accident has occurred at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, causing yet more damage to one of the world’s largest and most powerful radio telescopes.
In August, astronomers and science-lovers alike were aghast to see a giant hole ripped through the facility’s massive reflector dish, resulting from a broken auxiliary cable that fell and smashed into the structure, leaving an ugly gash measuring 30 metres (100 feet) long.
In the months since, engineers and workers at the observatory have been making preparations for a complex repair job, with work initially scheduled to begin this week. Unfortunately, a second cable failure taking place on Friday evening local time has now complicated the situation further.
“This is certainly not what we wanted to see, but the important thing is that no one got hurt,” says director of the observatory Francisco Cordova.
“We have been thoughtful in our evaluation and prioritised safety in planning for repairs that were supposed to begin Tuesday. Now this.”
According to the University of Central Florida (UCF), which operates the Arecibo Observatory on behalf of the National Science Foundation, the second cable incident appears to bear some relation to the first.
Both cables were connected to the same support tower, and it’s possible the second break was triggered by additional strain after the first failure.
Observers at the facility had been monitoring all the cables since the accident in August, and had noted wires breaking on the cable that snapped last week, presumably due to fraying from the extra load. Unfortunately, before any remedial stop-guards could be put in place, the second cable also gave way, falling onto the dish, causing additional damage to it, and also damaging nearby cables.
Working in conjunction with engineers brought in to assess the situation, UCF is expediting the repair plan underway, with a view to reducing the tension on remaining cables as quickly as possible. Two new cables are already on their way to the observatory, and the team will continue evaluating the structure while they wait for the parts to arrive.
“There is much uncertainty until we can stabilise the structure,” Cordova says. “It has our full attention. We are evaluating the situation with our experts and hope to have more to share soon.”
What makes the whole repair and fortification project even more challenging is Arecibo’s age: the historic facility was built in the 1960s, and held the title of the world’s largest single-aperture radio telescope for over a half-century – until it was superseded by China’s even more humongous Five hundred metre Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST), which began its testing phase in 2016 and achieved full operational status in January.
During its long-running service, the Arecibo facility has notched up dozens of astronomical milestones, observing and recording new scientific measurements of distant exoplanets, asteroids, pulsars, radio emissions, and molecules in far-flung galaxies.
The observatory has also been at the forefront of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and was the transmitter of the Arecibo message, a pioneering attempt in 1974 to broadcast an interstellar radio signal.
It may have been eclipsed by FAST in terms of its size, but the Arecibo Observatory nonetheless is expected to have decades of discoveries left in it, but only if its serious and seemingly mounting structural issues can be fixed.
“This is not good, but we remain committed to getting the facility back online,” Cordova says. “It’s just too important of a tool for the advancement of science.”
That’s certainly true, but for an ageing facility that’s been operational since before humanity visited the Moon, it’s hard to know for sure just how serious the damage is, and how fortifiable or repairable the structure will ultimately be, let alone if other accidents happen in the short term.
Here’s hoping for a positive outcome, and that emergency measures can stabilise this pillar of 20th century astronomy. But even before these recent cable breakages, the observatory was still receiving repairs for damage caused by Hurricane Maria, which slammed into Puerto Rico in 2017.
“It’s not a pretty picture,” radio astronomer Joanna Rankin from the University of Vermont told Science. “This is damn serious.”
Scientists produce diamonds in minutes at room temperature – MINING.com
“Natural diamonds are usually formed over billions of years, about 150 kilometres deep in the Earth where there are high pressures and temperatures above 1,000 degrees Celsius,” Jodie Bradby, professor at The Australian National University and one of the authors of the study, said in a media statement.
“The twist in this story is how we apply the pressure. As well as very high pressures, we allow the carbon to also experience something called ‘shear’ – which is like a twisting or sliding force. We think this allows the carbon atoms to move into place and form Lonsdaleite and regular diamond.”
To observe and understand how this process works, the researchers used advanced electron microscopy techniques to capture solid and intact slices from the experimental samples to create snapshots of how the two types of diamonds formed.
The pictures showed that the regular diamonds only form in the middle of Lonsdaleite veins under this new method.
“Seeing these little ‘rivers’ of Lonsdaleite and regular diamond for the first time was just amazing and really helps us understand how they might form,” Dougal McCulloch, the study’s lead author and a professor at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, said.
According to the scientists, Lonsdaleite has the potential to be used for cutting through ultra-solid materials on mining sites. As such, they said that creating more of this rare diamond is the long-term aim of their work.
Siemens, Deutsche Bahn launch local hydrogen trains trial – The Guardian
MUNICH (Reuters) – Siemens Mobility and Deutsche Bahn have started developing hydrogen-powered fuel cell trains and a filling station which will be trialled in 2024 with view to replace diesel engines on German local rail networks.
The prototype, to be built by Siemens, is based on electric railcar Mireo Plus which will be equipped with fuel cells to turn hydrogen and oxygen into electricity on board, and with a battery, both companies said.
Siemens mobility chief executive Michael Peter told Reuters the train combined the possibility to be fed by three sources in a modular system – either by the battery, the fuel cell or even existing overhead lines, depending on where it would run.
German railway operator Deutsche Bahn has not electrified 40% of its 33,000 kilometre (km) long network, on which it runs 1,300 fossil-fuel emitting diesel locomotives.
Rail transport must be decarbonised over the long-term under European Union and national climate targets.
“Our hydrogen trains are able to replace diesel-fuelled trains in the long term,” Peter said.
The new prototype will be fuelled within 15 minutes, have a range of 600 km and a top speed of 160 km/hour.
It will be tested between Tuebingen, Horb and Pforzheim in Baden Wuerttemberg state.
The main target market are operators of regional networks that typically re-order lots of 10 to 50 trains, Peter said.
“We see a market potential of 10,000-15,000 trains in Europe that will need to be replaced over the next 10-15 years, with 3,000 alone in Germany,” he said.
Each train will cost between five and 10 million euros ($5.9-$11.9 million), creating a market potential of 50-150 billion euros overall.
The Berlin government expects green hydrogen to become competitive with fossil fuels over the long term and to play a key role in decarbonising industry, heating and transport.
(Reporting by Joern Poltz in Munich and Vera Eckert in Frankfurt, editing by David Evans)
The impossible choice Canada’s seniors face this winter – 95.7 News
In today’s Big Story podcast, we want elderly Canadians, who are heightened risk from COVID-19, to be safe. For much of the past eight months, that has meant hundreds of thousands of grandparents haven’t seen their grandkids, parents haven’t seen their children, or their siblings — and for many of them, this has harmed them as much as a bout with the virus might.
We all want our elderly loved ones to be around forever, but even forgetting about COVID-19, they won’t be. And as they face another four to six months without much contact or support, many of them are wondering if they might not choose to take the risk with the time they have left.
GUEST: Christina Frangou, science and health writer
You can also find it at thebigstorypodcast.ca.
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