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Arecibo telescope, star of the astronomy world, to be decommissioned

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Issued on: 19/11/2020 – 22:46Modified: 19/11/2020 – 22:44

Washington (AFP)

The renowned Arecibo telescope in Puerto Rico will be dismantled after 57 years of service due to the rupture of cables that have led to the threat of collapse, the US National Science Foundation announced Thursday.

Two cables supporting the 900-ton instruments for the telescope above a radio dish 1,000 feet (305 meters) in diameter broke on August 10 and November 6.

Engineers are concerned other cables could also break at any time, making any attempt at repair excessively dangerous.

The telescope is one of the largest in the world and has been a tool for many astronomical discoveries.

The foundation “prioritizes the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory’s staff and visitors, which makes this decision necessary, although unfortunate,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan.

“For nearly six decades, the Arecibo Observatory has served as a beacon for breakthrough science and what a partnership with a community can look like.”

Using the hashtag “WhatAreciboMeansToMe”, messages of sadness at the news spread on Twitter from both professional and amateur astronomers who have used the telescope for their work in observing the cosmos for decades.

“More than a telescope, Arecibo is the reason I am even in astronomy,” local astronomer Kevin Ortiz Ceballos wrote on Twitter.

Karen Masters, astrophysics professor at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, posted a photo of herself and her baby daughter near the radio dish in 2008 and said she was “heartbroken and disappointed.”

An action scene from the James Bond film “GoldenEye” takes place above the telescope, and in the film “Contact” an astronomer played by Jodie Foster uses the observatory in her quest for alien signals.

The engineering company that examined the structure concluded that the remaining cables were possibly weaker than expected and recommended controlled demolition, which the foundation accepted.

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Chinese Chang'e-5 Is Returning From Moon With Rocks, Left A Flag To Celebrate – KCCU

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China’s lunar probe Chang’e-5 is on its way back to Earth after a brief visit to the moon Thursday. The craft collected soil and rock samples over the course of about 19 hours and then left the lunar surface.

The samples are expected to land on Earth around the middle of the month.

Before it left, the spacecraft planted a flag there — making China only the second country to leave its national banner on the moon. China hadn’t deployed one in two previous landings.

Getting a flag to the moon isn’t easy and solar radiation has likely bleached out the ones planted by U.S. astronauts, according to NASA.

For China, its most recent accomplishment has a nostalgic feel, aerospace expert and TV commentator Song Zhongping told China’s Global Times. It has been more than half a century since the NASA Apollo 11 crew walked on the moon.

“Yesterday’s memory is still fresh and clear, when the U.S. astronauts stepped outside their cabins and planted the first flag in human history, an American national flag, on the moon in 1969,” Zhongping said. “But China is about to showcase our own national flag as well, which I believe is a recognition of achievements and breakthroughs that we have made, which will be the most valuable thing.”

The Soviet Union was the first country to leave its mark on the moon, intentionally smashing the Luna 2 probe there in 1959.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Chinese national flag debuts on moon: CNSA – Global Times

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Photo:CNSA

The China National Space Administration (CNSA) on Friday showed photos of the first Chinese national flag on the moon. The photo was taken with the flag on board the Chang’e-5 lander vehicle before the ascender blasted off from the moon, marking another proud, inspiring moment in the memories of the Chinese people. 

As soon as the photo was released, it brought cheers from Chinese netizens on twitter-like Sina Weibo. As thousands of netizens left emojis of hearts, clapping hands, and celebrating ribbons on the social platform, some said “if there’s a color for a miracle, it must be the color red on our Chinese national flag.”

The flag, more stylish than before, was made from some special material and weighs only 12 grams. It is the third time that the five-starred red flag on the moon following the mission’s two predecessors, chang’e-3 and -4. Only this time, it comes in the form of actual fabrics other than previous coating on.

The Chinese national flag made its moon debut in December 2013 during the country’s first lunar landing mission of Chang’e-3, and it was recorded in pictures from the spacecraft’s lander and its rover Yutu-1 took for each other.

Chang’e-4 lander and rover Yutu-2 brought China’s national flag to the dark side of the moon, as the Chinese spacecraft made a historic landing in the unvisited region in January 2019.

The flags that Chang’e-3 and -4 carried were in the form of the craft’s coatings, rather than an actual flag. Chinese space technological development has allowed it to take a step forward in the Chang’e-5 mission, the third consecutive safe soft landing on the moon in seven years. 

The Chang’e-5 flag presentation system was developed by China Space Sanjiang Group under the State-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, better known as the CASIC.

To ensure a complete and smooth unfolding of the flag, the system adopted a secondary rod-type structure, which is applied in solar panel extending for satellites and other types of spacecraft, CASIC developers told the Global Times on Thursday.

The system weight has been controlled at around one kilogram, and all connecting parts of the system have been given special protection, such as coldness-resistance measures, to help overcome unfavorable lunar surface conditions, including a drastic temperature difference on the moon ranging from 150 C to minus 150 C, Li Yunfeng, the project leader, said in a statement the CASIC company sent to the Global Times.

“An ordinary national flag on Earth would not survive the severe lunar environment,” so the research team also spent more than a year selecting the proper materials to make sure the eventual flag would be strong enough, survive under extreme coldness and heat and capable of showing the fine colors of the national flag and remain so forever, said Cheng Chang, another leading member of the developer team.

The 12-gram national flag represents cutting-edge technology, they said.

How to preserve its original color and shape are the two most crucial questions in designing a national flag that must survive more than 380,000 kilometers away from Earth, under extreme temperatures and radiation during its journey, Wang Ya’nan told the Global Times. 

To get a sense of how difficult the task it is, five of the six flags (except for the one Apollo 11 placed on the moon) brought to the moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s during six US crewed moon landings, have been bleached white due to decades-long solar radiation, although they are reportedly still standing and casting shadows.

Many reports say the Apollo 11 flag was blown over by the exhaust from the ascent engine during lift-off.

The Soviet Union was the first country to imprint its national symbol on the moon, with a football-sized metal ball, carved with its national flag, full of explosives, smashing to the lunar ground in the Luna 2 mission in 1959.

Compared to such a method, China has a more advanced approach, which also greatly increased the complexity of the design, Wang noted.

The Chinese flag that Chang’e-5 displayed officially became the first and only fabric national flag that has ever been placed on the moon in the 21st century, which reminds many of the classic footage of an American national flag planted by Neil Armstrong in the Apollo 11 lunar mission more than five decades ago, observers said.

And they hailed that as the fresh and new icon of human’s lunar exploration, the Chinese national flag would inspire today’s mankind, just as Apollo 11 did, encourage and celebrate generations to make an endeavor to space. 

Displaying a national flag on a celestial body represents the comprehensive strength and technological advancement of the country, Song Zhongping, an aerospace expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times. 

“Yesterday’s memory is still fresh and clear, when the US astronauts stepped outside their cabins and planted the first flag in human history, an American national flag, on the moon in 1969,” Song recalled. “But China is about to showcase our own national flag as well, which I believe is a recognition of the achievements and breakthroughs that we have made, which will be the most valuable thing.”

Some readers have left comments under images and video of the Chang’e-5 landing published on the Global Times twitter account in recent days, saying they would not be convinced and acknowledge China’s achievements until the lander takes an actual photo of the American flag planted by the previous Apollo mission. 

“Is it an original video, or a TikTok post taken in the Gobi desert,” one Twitter user wrote. “Where is the lunar dust while landing,” another asked.

The landing was closely followed by space agencies from all over the world, and the European Space Agency, Russia’s Roscosmos and NASA scientists have extended their congratulations.

Pang Zhihao, a senior space expert based in Beijing, said “the lander vehicle of Chang’e-5 was designed to turn off its engine about two meters above the surface to deliberately avoid blowing dirt.”

And for the sake of innovation, the lander touched down on an unvisited region, which explains why there were no US craft nearby, Pang said.

Global Times

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Footage shows catastrophic collapse of iconic Puerto Rico telescope – cjoy.com

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Dramatic video from Puerto Rico captures the moment when a 816-tonne platform came crashing down on the Arecibo Observatory, shattering one of the world’s largest telescopes and striking a crushing blow to the global scientific community.

The catastrophic collapse happened on Dec. 1, less than two weeks after the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) warned that such a disaster was imminent. The NSF had already shuttered operations at the facility after a suspension cable snapped and slashed a hole in the dish last month.

Read more:
Massive Puerto Rico radio telescope collapses after cables snap

The telescope was the largest of its kind when it opened in 1963, and it has contributed to all manner of astronomical discoveries over the years, from asteroids to planets to mysterious radio signals in space. It also won a place in pop culture as the set for such films as Contact and GoldenEye, the first James Bond movie starring Pierce Brosnan.

The observatory’s telescope consisted of a 816-tonne reflector dish platform suspended 137 metres above a massive, bowl-like dish, which measured 305 metres across.

Suspension cables holding up the platform snapped on Dec. 1, dropping the heavy platform on the dish with a tremendous crash.

Video captured by the Arecibo control tower shows one of the three major cables snapping, causing the platform to swing down on the remaining cables before snapping them, too.

The footage shows the reflector dish platform falling apart in mid-air, while dragging down several support towers behind it.

Drone footage captured from one of the support towers shows the moment when the first cable snapped. The cable snapped at the tower, then the whole structure came crashing down, pulling other towers with it and cracking the bowl of the telescope. Large clouds of dust rose from the bowl after the catastrophe.

Read more:
Mysterious radio signal from space traced to ‘zombie’ in our galaxy

Jonathan Friedman, who worked for 26 years at the facility and still lives nearby, described the awful sound of the collapse in an interview with the Associated Press.

“It sounded like a rumble. I knew exactly what it was,” he said. “I was screaming. Personally, I was out of control. … I don’t have words to express it. It’s a very deep, terrible feeling.”

Many scientists, Puerto Rico residents and other public figures mourned the telescope’s loss after it was closed, and again after it collapsed.

Ángel Vázquez, the telescope’s director of operations, said it was no surprise when the telescope fell apart early Tuesday.

“It was a snowball effect,” he said. “There was no way to stop it. … It was too much for the old girl to take.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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