The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has collapsed, after weeks of concern from scientists over the fate of what was once the world’s largest single-dish radio telescope. Arecibo’s 900-ton equipment platform, suspended 500 feet above the dish, fell overnight after the last of its healthy support cables failed to keep it in place.
No injuries were reported, according to the National Science Foundation, which oversees the renowned research facility.
“NSF is saddened by this development,” the agency said. “As we move forward, we will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain our strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico.”
The Arecibo Observatory had been slated last month to be withdrawn from service, with the NSF citing the risk of an “uncontrolled collapse” because of failures in the cables that suspended the platform and its huge Gregorian dome above the 1,000-foot-wide reflector dish.
The telescope’s trademark dish, nestled amid thick tropical forest, was left with a huge gash in August after a cable fell and slashed through its panels. After a main cable snapped in early November, officials said they saw no way to safely preserve the unstable structure.
Instead, they were hoping to keep the visitors center and other buildings operational. But they also noted it would take weeks to work out the technical details of a plan.
Ángel Vázquez, the observatory’s director of telescope operations, says he was in the control room area when equipment began to plummet to the ground. In an interview that was posted to Twitter by scientist Wilbert Andrés Ruperto, Vázquez says he and other staff members had been in the process of removing valuable equipment when they heard a loud bang outside.
— Wilbert Andrés Ruperto (@ruperto1023) December 1, 2020
“When we looked outside the control room, we started to see the eventual downfall of the observatory,” Vázquez said. He added that strands of the remaining three cables had been unraveling in recent days, increasing the strain. And because two of the support towers maintained tension as the collapse occurred, some of the falling equipment was yanked across the side of the dish rather than falling straight down through its focal point.
“This whole process took 30 seconds,” Vázquez said, “and an unfortunate icon in radio astronomy was done.”
Vázquez said he has worked at the facility for 43 years, starting soon after college.
— Prof. Abel Méndez (@ProfAbelMendez) December 1, 2020
The massive reflector dish is made up of perforated aluminum panels, leaving an expanse of greenery underneath. But many of those panels have now fallen to the ground.
A record of discovery
In Arecibo’s nearly 60 years of operation, the observatory’s powerful capabilities made it a popular choice for researchers chasing breakthroughs in radio astronomy and atmospheric science. It was used for projects from sniffing out gravitational waves in space to tracking down potentially habitable planets far from Earth.
Arecibo’s legacy includes the detection of the first binary pulsar in 1974 — a discovery that bolstered a key idea in Einstein’s general theory of relativity and that earned two physicists the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics.
The observatory has been an inspiration to many. For its neighbors in Puerto Rico and for people worldwide, it has been a literal link between the terrestrial and the extraterrestrial. And in movies and art, it has been depicted as both Earth’s doorbell and its peephole into outer space.
Pierce Brosnan clambered around its ladders in the James Bond film GoldenEye. Jodie Foster marveled at its otherworldly promise in Contact. And in 1974, it was used to beam a “Hello” message into space.
Researchers have been mourning the telescope’s loss since the NSF announced its looming demise last month. Astronomer Seth Shostak of the SETI Institute compared it to learning your high school has burned down or to losing a big brother. Doing research at the facility was like going to a wonderful summer camp, he wrote in a recent farewell message to Arecibo.
“While life will continue, something powerful and profoundly wonderful is gone,” Shostak said.
Here’s how planetary scientist Ed Rivera-Valentin described one aspect of Arecibo’s importance earlier this year, on NPR’s Short Wave podcast:
“One of the really neat things about the Arecibo Observatory is that it’s a very versatile scientific instrument. Most telescopes, most radio telescopes, don’t have the ability to send out light. They only capture light. At the observatory, we can send and capture light. When an asteroid’s coming by, we are pretty much a flashlight that we turn on. We send radar out to it, and that radar comes back. … We can tell you how far these objects are down to a few meters.
“And we care about where these asteroids are going to be because what if, one day, this thing comes around and gets too close to Earth? But if we can let people know this is going to happen next year, we can actually prepare for it. Like, the dinosaurs — they didn’t have a space program, so they didn’t get to prepare for anything.”
The idea for the observatory was conceived in the late 1950s by Cornell University professor William E. Gordon, who was looking to build a huge tool to explore the Earth’s atmosphere and the composition of nearby planets and moons.
The site in Puerto Rico was chosen “to take advantage of the vicinity to the equator and of the topography of the terrain, which provided a nearly spherical valley and minimized excavation,” according to a lecture by longtime Cornell astronomy professor Martha Haynes.
The telescope underwent major upgrades in the 1970s and 1990s, allowing researchers to expand its role. Built with federal funds, Arecibo was managed for decades by Cornell before the University of Central Florida took up that role.
Three more COVID-19 cases at GRT – KitchenerToday.com
Grand River Transit is confirming three more COVID cases.
All the affected employees are bus drivers.
Two of them last worked on January 15, while the third was last on the job on Jan. 11.
GRT points out all three are now self-isolating at home.
So far in Janaury, nine employees have tested positive for the virus.
Grand River Transit lists COVID-19 cases on its website for transparency purposes, but some details are not released due to privacy concerns.
Since the on-set of the pandemic, multiple safety precautions have been put in place to protect drivers and riders, including barriers and mandatory masks.
Microplastics could be eliminated from wastewater at source – E&T Magazine
A team of researchers from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS), Quebec, Canada, have developed an electrolytic process for treating wastewater, degrading microplastics at the source.
Microplastics are fragments of plastic less than 5mm long, often contained in toiletries or shedding from polyester clothing. They are present in virtually every corner of the Earth, and pose a particularly serious threat to marine ecosystems. High concentrations of microplastics can be carried into the environment in wastewater.
There are no established degradation methods to handle microplastics during wastewater treatment; although some techniques exist, these involve physical separation as a means of filtering the pollutant. These techniques do not degrade microplastics, which requires additional work to manage the separated fragments. So far, research into degradation of microplastics has been very limited.
The INRS researchers, led by water treatment expert Professor Patrick Drogui, decided to try degrading plastic particles through electrolytic oxidation – a process that does not require the addition of chemicals.
“Using electrodes, we generate hydroxyl radicals to attack microplastics,” Drogui said. “This process is environmentally friendly because it breaks them down into CO2 and water molecules, which are non-toxic to the ecosystem.”
Drogui and his colleagues experimented with different anode materials and other parameters such as current intensity, anode surface, electrolyte type, electrolyte concentration and reaction time. They found that the electrolytic oxidation could degrade more than 58 ± 21 per cent of microplastics in one hour. The microplastics appeared to degrade directly into gas rather than breaking into smaller particles.
Lab-based tests on water artificially contaminated with fragments of polystyrene showed a degradation efficiency as high as 89 per cent.
“This work demonstrated that [electrolytic oxidation] is a promising process for degradation of microplastics in water without production of any waste or by-products,” the researchers wrote in their Environmental Pollution report.
Drogui envisions this technology being used to treat microplastic-rich wastewater emerging from sources such as commercial laundries.
“When this commercial laundry water arrives at the wastewater treatment plant, it is mixed with large quantities of water, the pollutants are diluted and therefore more difficult to degrade,” he explained. “Conversely, by acting at the source, i.e. at the laundry, the concentration of microplastics is higher, thus more accessible for electrolytic degradation.”
Next, the researchers will move on to experimenting with degrading microplastics on water outside the artificial laboratory environment. Real commercial laundry water contains other materials that can affect the degradation process, such as carbonates and phosphates, which can trap radicals and limit degradation. If the technology is effective under these circumstances, the researchers plan to conduct a study to determine the cost of scaling up this treatment to implement in laundries.
Last week, researchers from the University of Barcelona published a study suggesting that encouraging a greater proliferation of seagrass meadows in the shallows of oceans could help trap, extract and carry marine plastic debris to shore.
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Eliminating microplastics in wastewater directly at the source – EurekAlert
A research team from the Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) has developed a process for the electrolytic treatment of wastewater that degrades microplastics at the source. The results of this research have been published in the Environmental Pollution journal.
Wastewater can carry high concentrations of microplastics into the environment. These small particles of less than 5 mm can come from our clothes, usually as microfibers. Professor Patrick Drogui, who led the study, points out there are currently no established degradation methods to handle this contaminant during wastewater treatment. Some techniques already exist, but they often involve physical separation as a means of filtering pollutants. These technologies do not degrade them, which requires additional work to manage the separated particles.
Therefore, the research team decided to degrade the particles by electrolytic oxidation, a process not requiring the addition of chemicals. “Using electrodes, we generate hydroxyl radicals (* OH) to attack microplastics. This process is environmentally friendly because it breaks them down into CO2 and water molecules, which are non-toxic to the ecosystem,” explains the researcher. The electrodes used in this process are more expensive than iron or steel electrodes, which degrade over time, but can be reused for several years.
An effective treatment
Professor Drogui envisions the use of this technology at the exit of commercial laundries, a potential source of microplastics release into the environment. “When this commercial laundry water arrives at the wastewater treatment plant, it is mixed with large quantities of water, the pollutants are diluted and therefore more difficult to degrade. Conversely, by acting at the source, i.e., at the laundry, the concentration of microplastics is higher (per litre of water), thus more accessible for electrolytic degradation,” explains the specialist in electrotechnology and water treatment.
Laboratory tests conducted on water artificially contaminated with polystyrene showed a degradation efficiency of 89%. The team plans to move on to experiments on real water. “Real water contains other materials that can affect the degradation process, such as carbonates and phosphates, which can trap radicals and reduce the performance of the oxidation process,” says Professor Drogui, scientific director of the Laboratory of Environmental Electrotechnologies and Oxidative Processes (LEEPO).
If the technology demonstrates its effectiveness on real commercial laundry water, the research group intends to conduct a study to determine the cost of treatment and the adaptation of the technology to treat larger quantities of wastewater. Within a few years, the technology could be implemented in laundry facilities.
About the study
The article “Treatment of microplastics in water by anodic oxidation: A case study for polystyrene”, by Marthe Kiendrebeogo, Mahmoodreza Karimiestahbanati, Ali Khosravanipour Mostafazadeh, Patrick Drogui and Rajeshwar Dayal Tyagi, was published in the Environmental Pollution journal. The team received financial support from the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Nature et technologies (FRQNT), the CREATE-TEDGIEER program, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Canadian Francophonie Scholarship Program (CFSP).
INRS is a university dedicated exclusively to graduate level research and training. Since its creation in 1969, INRS has played an active role in Quebec’s economic, social, and cultural development and is ranked first for research intensity in Quebec and in Canada. INRS is made up of four interdisciplinary research and training centres in Quebec City, Montreal, Laval, and Varennes, with expertise in strategic sectors: Eau Terre Environnement, Énergie Matériaux Télécommunications, Urbanisation Culture Société, and Armand-Frappier Santé Biotechnologie. The INRS community includes more than 1,400 students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty members, and staff.
Service des communications de l’INRS
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