News Release 20-010
NSF begins planning for decommissioning of Arecibo Observatory’s 305-meter telescope due to safety concerns
November 19, 2020
Following a review of engineering assessments that found damage to the Arecibo Observatory cannot be stabilized without risk to construction workers and staff at the facility, the U.S. National Science Foundation will begin plans to decommission the 305-meter telescope, which for 57 years has served as a world-class resource for radio astronomy, planetary, solar system and geospace research.
The decision comes after NSF evaluated multiple assessments by independent engineering companies that found the telescope structure is in danger of a catastrophic failure and its cables may no longer be capable of carrying the loads they were designed to support. Furthermore, several assessments stated that any attempts at repairs could put workers in potentially life-threatening danger. Even in the event of repairs going forward, engineers found that the structure would likely present long-term stability issues.
“NSF 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. While this is a profound change, we will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain that strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico.”
Engineers have been examining the Arecibo Observatory 305-meter telescope since August, when one of its support cables detached. NSF authorized the University of Central Florida, which manages Arecibo, to take all reasonable steps and use available funds to address the situation while ensuring safety remained the highest priority. UCF acted quickly, and the evaluation process was following its expected timeline, considering the age of the facility, the complexity of the design and the potential risk to workers.
The engineering teams had designed and were ready to implement emergency structural stabilization of the auxiliary cable system. While the observatory was arranging for delivery of two replacement auxiliary cables, as well as two temporary cables, a main cable broke on the same tower Nov. 6. Based on the stresses on the second broken cable — which should have been well within its ability to function without breaking — engineers concluded that the remaining cables are likely weaker than originally projected.
“Leadership at Arecibo Observatory and UCF did a commendable job addressing this situation, acting quickly and pursuing every possible option to save this incredible instrument,” said Ralph Gaume, director of NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences. “Until these assessments came in, our question was not if the observatory should be repaired but how. But in the end, a preponderance of data showed that we simply could not do this safely. And that is a line we cannot cross.”
The scope of NSF’s decommissioning plan would focus only on the 305-meter telescope and is intended to safely preserve other parts of the observatory that could be damaged or destroyed in the event of an unplanned, catastrophic collapse. The plan aims to retain as much as possible of the remaining infrastructure of Arecibo Observatory, so that it remains available for future research and educational missions.
The decommissioning process involves developing a technical execution plan and ensuring compliance with a series of legal, environmental, safety and cultural requirements over the coming weeks. NSF has authorized a high-resolution photographic survey using drones, and is considering options for forensic evaluation of the broken cable — if such action could be done safely — to see if any new evidence could inform the ongoing plans. This work has already begun and will continue throughout the decommissioning planning. Equipment and other materials will be temporarily moved to buildings outside the danger zone. When all necessary preparations have been made, the telescope would be subject to a controlled disassembly.
After the telescope decommissioning, NSF would intend to restore operations at assets such as the Arecibo Observatory LIDAR facility — a valuable geospace research tool — as well as at the visitor center and offsite Culebra facility, which analyzes cloud cover and precipitation data. NSF would also seek to explore possibilities for expanding the educational capacities of the learning center. Safety precautions due to the COVID-19 pandemic will remain in place as appropriate.
Some Arecibo operations involving the analysis and cataloging of archived data collected by the telescope would continue. UCF secured enhanced cloud storage and analytics capabilities in 2019 through an agreement with Microsoft, and the observatory is working to migrate on-site data to servers outside of the affected area.
Areas of the observatory that could be affected by an uncontrolled collapse have been evacuated since the November cable break and will remain closed to unauthorized personnel during the decommissioning. NSF and UCF will work to minimize risk in the area in the event of an unexpected collapse. NSF has prioritized a swift, thorough process with the intent of avoiding such an event.
NSF recognizes the cultural and economic significance of Arecibo Observatory to Puerto Rico, and how the telescope serves as an inspiration for Puerto Ricans considering education and employment in STEM. NSF’s goal is to work with the Puerto Rican government and other stakeholders and partners to explore the possibility of applying resources from Arecibo Observatory for educational purposes.
“Over its lifetime, Arecibo Observatory has helped transform our understanding of the ionosphere, showing us how density, composition and other factors interact to shape this critical region where Earth’s atmosphere meets space,” said Michael Wiltberger, head of NSF’s Geospace Section. “While I am disappointed by the loss of investigative capabilities, I believe this process is a necessary step to preserve the research community’s ability to use Arecibo Observatory’s other assets and hopefully ensure that important work can continue at the facility.”
Arecibo Observatory’s telescope consists of a radio dish 1,000 feet (305 meters) wide in diameter with a 900-ton instrument platform hanging 450 feet above. The platform is suspended by cables connected to three towers.
On Aug. 10, 2020, an auxiliary cable failed, slipping from its socket in one of the towers and leaving a 100-foot gash in the dish below. NSF authorized Arecibo Observatory to take all reasonable steps and use available funds, which amounted to millions of dollars, to secure the analysis and equipment needed to address the situation. Engineers were working to determine how to repair the damage and determine the integrity of the structure when a main cable connected to the same tower broke Nov. 6.
The second broken cable was unexpected — engineering assessments following the auxiliary cable failure indicated the structure was stable and the planning process to restore the telescope to operation was underway. Engineers subsequently found this 3-inch main cable snapped at about 60% of what should have been its minimum breaking strength during a period of calm weather, raising the possibility of other cables being weaker than expected.
Inspections of the other cables revealed new wire breaks on some of the main cables, which were original to the structure, and evidence of significant slippage at several sockets holding the remaining auxiliary cables, which were added during a refit in the 1990s that added weight to the instrument platform.
Thornton Tomasetti, the engineering firm of record hired by UCF to assess the structure, found that given the likelihood of another cable failing, repair work on the telescope — including mitigation measures to stabilize it for additional work — would be unsafe. Stress tests to capture a more accurate measure of the remaining cables’ strength could collapse the structure, Thornton Tomasetti found. The firm recommended a controlled demolition to eliminate the danger of an unexpected collapse.
“Although it saddens us to make this recommendation, we believe the structure should be demolished in a controlled way as soon as pragmatically possible, ” said the recommendation for action letter submitted by Thornton Tomasetti. “It is therefore our recommendation to expeditiously plan for decommissioning of the observatory and execute a controlled demolition of the telescope.”
UCF also hired two other engineering firms to provide assessments of the situation. One recommended immediate stabilization action. The other, after reviewing Thornton Tomasetti’s model, concurred that there is no course of action that could safely verify the structure’s stability and advised against allowing personnel on the telescope’s platforms or towers.
“Critical work remains to be done in the area of atmospheric sciences, planetary sciences, radio astronomy and radar astronomy,” UCF President Alexander N. Cartwright said. “UCF stands ready to utilize its experience with the observatory to join other stakeholders in pursuing the kind of commitment and funding needed to continue and build on Arecibo’s contributions to science.”
After receiving the contracted assessments, NSF brought in an independent engineering firm and the Army Corps of Engineers to review the findings. The firm NSF hired concurred with the recommendations of Thornton Tomasetti and expressed concern about significant danger from uncontrolled collapse. The Army Corps of Engineers recommended gathering additional photographic evidence of the facility and a complete forensic evaluation of the broken cable.
Given the fact that any stabilization or repair scenario would require workers to be on or near the telescope structure, the degree of uncertainty about the cables’ strength and the extreme forces at work, NSF accepted the recommendation to prepare for controlled decommissioning of the 305-meter telescope.
Media Affairs, NSF, (703) 292-7090, email: email@example.com
The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2020 budget of $8.3 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.
COVID-19: Alberta researcher recognized with innovation award for salt mask – Global News
Salt that crystallizes with sharp edges is the killer ingredient in the development of a reusable mask because any COVID-19 droplets that land on it would be quickly destroyed, says a researcher who is being recognized for her innovation.
Ilaria Rubino, a recent PhD graduate from the department of chemical and materials engineering at the University of Alberta, said a mostly salt and water solution that coats the first or middle layer of the mask would dissolve droplets before they can penetrate the face covering.
As the liquid from the droplets evaporates, the salt crystals grow back as spiky weapons, damaging the bacteria or virus within five minutes, Rubino said.
“We know that after the pathogens are collected in the mask, they can survive. Our goal was to develop a technology that is able to inactivate the pathogens upon contact so that we can make the mask as effective as possible.”
Rubino, who collaborated with a researcher at Georgia State University in Atlanta to advance the project she started five years ago, was recognized Tuesday with an innovation award from Mitacs. The Canadian not-for-profit organization receives funding from the federal government, most provinces and Yukon to honour researchers from academic institutions.
Edmonton Health Matters: salt solution and quilt delivery
The reusable, non-washable mask is made of a type of polypropylene, a plastic used in surgical masks, and could be safely worn and handled multiple times without being decontaminated, Rubino said.
The idea is to replace surgical masks often worn by health-care workers who must dispose of them in a few hours, she said, adding the technology could potentially be used for N-95 respirators.
This is what makes a good face mask, according to experts
The salt-coated mask is expected to be available commercially next year after regulatory approval. It could also be used to stop the spread of other infectious illnesses, such as influenza, Rubino said.
Dr. Catherine Clase, an epidemiologist and associate professor of medicine at McMaster University in Hamilton, said the “exciting” technology would have multiple benefits.
Clase, who is a member of the Centre of Excellence in Protective Equipment and Materials in the engineering department at McMaster, said there wasn’t much research in personal protective equipment when Rubino began her work.
“It’s going to decrease the footprint for making and distributing and then disposing of every mask,” she said, adding that the mask could also address any supply issues.
The Public Health Agency of Canada recently recommended homemade masks consist of at least three layers, with a middle, removable layer constructed from a non-woven, washable polypropylene fabric to improve filtration.
Conor Ruzycki, an aerosol scientist in the University of Alberta’s mechanical engineering department, said Rubino’s innovation adds to more recent research on masks as COVID-19 cases rise and shortages of face coverings in the health-care system could again become a problem.
Ruzycki, who works in a lab to evaluate infiltration efficiencies of different materials for masks and respirators, is also a member of a physician-led Alberta group Masks4Canada, which is calling for stricter pandemic measures, including a provincewide policy on mandatory masks.
© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.
China Kickstarts A New Era In The Space Race – OilPrice.com
In what could mark the beginning of another era of the “space race“, China has officially launched an unmanned spacecraft to the moon with plans of bringing back lunar rocks. It marks the first attempt by any nation to retrieve rocks from the moon since the 1970s. On Monday, Reuters confirmed the launch:
China’s probe, the Chang’e-5, sets off with the goal of China learning more about the moon’s origin and formation. If China succeeds, it will be only the third country to have retrieved samples from the moon – behind the U.S. and Soviet Union, according to CNN.
The goal of the mission to collect 4.5 pounds of samples in a previously untouched area called Oceanus Procellarum, or “Ocean of Storms”. The U.S. Apollo missions had previously landed 12 astronauts and brought back a total of 842 pounds of rocks and soil. The Soviet Union’s Luna missions had brought 6 ounces of samples in the 70s.
Both countries visited different areas of the moon than the Chinese aspire to visit.
James Head, a planetary scientist at Brown University, said: “The Apollo-Luna sample zone of the moon, while critical to our understanding, was undertaken in an area that comprises far less than half the lunar surface.”
Once it’s on the moon, the probe will deploy two vehicles and a lander will drill into the ground. Samples of the moon’s surface will then lift off to another module in orbit. Eventually, they will make their way back to Earth in a return capsule.
China has visited the moon with probes in 2013 and 2019. The country says it has plans to establish a “robotic base station” on the moon within the next decade. It plans on doing so using its Chang’e 6, Chang’e 7 and Chang’e 8 missions.
The country has also publicly said it has aspirations of getting samples from Mars before 2030.
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Many Canadians gaining weight during COVID-19: poll – BarrieToday
OTTAWA — A new poll suggests many Canadians are gaining weight because they’re eating more and exercising less during COVID-19 pandemic.
Nearly one-third of respondents in the survey conducted by Leger and the Association for Canadian Studies said they have put on weight since March, compared to 15 per cent who said they lost weight over that time.
As well, about one-third of respondents said they’re exercising less, while 16 per cent said they’re working out more since the first wave of the pandemic landed in Canada in the spring.
Jack Jedwab, president of the Association for Canadian Studies, suggested that one reason may be a rush for comfort food to deal with pandemic-related anxieties.
Respondents in the survey who said they were “very afraid” of COVID-19 were more likely to report gaining weight, eating more and exercising less.
“The more anxiety you have, the more likely it is that you know you’re eating more,” Jedwab said.
“People who are least anxious about COVID (are) the ones that are not eating more than usual and are not gaining weight.”
The online survey of 1,516 Canadians was conducted Oct. 29-31 and cannot be assigned a margin of error because internet-based polls are not considered random samples.
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Ottawa, said there are plausible reasons to connect weight gain or loss with the pandemic, but he hadn’t seen any studies to convince him that’s the case.
Some people are “not reliant on restaurants constantly” and “cooking more frequently in their homes,” which Freedhoff said may be leading to weight loss or better dietary choices. Others are eating more, he said, relying on comfort food “because they’re anxious as a consequence of the pandemic, or the tragedies that have gone on in their lives.”
Jedwab said the country needs to also be mindful of mental health issues that can affect the physical health of Canadians.
“With the winter coming, it’ll be even more challenging, in some parts of the country, to maintain a healthy lifestyle in terms of walking, in terms of doing basic things that will help us address our anxieties,” he said, pointing to lack of access for some to gyms subject to local lockdowns.
Some of those exercise classes have gone online. Gabriel Shaw, a kinesiologist from Victoria, B.C. said he has offered virtual classes to give his clients an chance to be physically active.
Shaw said the classes don’t provide people with a sense of community like in-person classes, which he said is important for some people to exercise consistently.
“The best bet for people is to find a way they can enjoy it. That might be going out for a social distance walk or hike or run or bike with a friend,” Shaw said. “That might be finding a Zoom thing that you can get on like dancing or even other activities where you have friends.”
Shaw said people should also try learn a new skill like dancing, yoga, rock climbing, or take up running to keep things fresh and enjoyable, which is key to exercising long and well.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020
This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.
Maan Alhmidi, The Canadian Press
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