The radio-antenna platform of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, as well as three support towers, could collapse catastrophically, falling into the facility's 1,000-foot-wide dish.
NAIC Arecibo Observatory/NSF; Business InsiderOne of the world's most iconic astronomical observatories has fallen apart beyond repair. Now it threatens to collapse entirely.
Following two unexpected cable breaks, engineers have determined that the Arecibo Observatory's 1,000-foot (305-meter) radio telescope is so structurally unsound that any workers who try to fix it would risk their lives. So the National Science Foundation, which owns the Puerto Rico telescope, has decided to decommission it.
Now engineers are racing to figure out how to safely deconstruct one of the world's largest radio telescopes before it collapses on itself. The structure is so unstable that engineers can't even approach it to evaluate the risk and timing of such a collapse.
"Even attempts at stabilization or testing the cables could result in accelerating the catastrophic failure," Ralph Gaume, director of the NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences, said in a press conference Thursday morning.
'It's like losing someone important in your life'
In its 57-year lifetime, the Arecibo telescope has hunted for hazardous near-Earth asteroids, searched for signs of alien life, and discovered the first planet beyond our solar system. In 1974, Arecibo beamed out the most powerful broadcast Earth has ever sent to communicate with potential aliens. In 2016, it detected the first repeating fast radio bursts — mysterious space signals that scientists now think come from dead stars.
But Arecibo's woes began in August, shortly after Tropical Storm Isaias passed over the island. A 3-inch-thick auxiliary cable popped out of its socket on one of the telescope's three towers and crashed into the reflector dish below. It tore a 100-foot gash in the panels.
A hole in the 1,000-foot-wide reflector dish of the Arecibo Observatory, torn when a cable fell on August 10, 2020.
Then in early November, just before repairs were set to begin in earnest, a 15,000-pound main cable from the same tower broke and crashed into the dish. Engineers had thought the structure was still strong enough to avoid a second disaster — and this cable was carrying just 60% of its estimated load capacity — but the failure proved them wrong. They decided they could no longer trust any of the remaining cables.
Both failed cables had been supporting an enormous metal platform hanging over the dish. If another cable from the same tower were to fail, engineers found, the platform would fall with it.
"The entire 900-ton platform will come crashing down into the main disk, and it's possible that the three main towers themselves, which are over 300 feet tall, will topple," Gaume said.
The Arecibo Observatory as seen in 2012. The platform and Gregorian Dome hang over the reflector dish.
Universal Images Group via Getty Images
Deconstructing the telescope means abandoning any chance of saving it, but it's the course of action three engineering firms recommended.
"This decision is not an easy one for NSF to make. But safety of people is our number one priority," Sean Jones, assistant director for the NSF's Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate, said.
By moving quickly, the NSF hopes to salvage a set of buildings that lay directly below one of the telescope's towers. That way, the Arecibo Observatory can stay open — but without its defining feature.
"When I learned of the news, I was totally devastated," Abel Mendez, director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, told Business Insider. He has been around the observatory since he was 10 years old and worked with it professionally for the last decade.
"It's hard to take. It's like losing someone important in your life. Yeah, 2020 — it's not good," he said.
The US has lost its best asteroid hunter and alien seeker
The loss of Arecibo's telescope is a major blow to humanity's search for alien life, our ability to defend the planet from asteroids, and the entire field of radio astronomy.
Mendez said that although Arecibo doesn't discover potentially dangerous space rocks, it's instrumental in investigating them: The observatory can ping such objects with radar to decrypt their shape, rotation, surface features, and trajectory through space.
An artist's depiction of the asteroid impact 65 million years ago that caused the dinosaurs' disappearance.
Without that data, it's much harder to know if an asteroid is hurtling towards Earth.
The Arecibo Observatory plans to work with scientists who'd intended to use the telescope to find ways to transfer their research elsewhere, Gaume said. Other NSF facilities — the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Virginia and the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia — could potentially take on some Arecibo science.
However, Mendez said that Green Bank is only 10% to 20% as sensitive to weak radio signals as Arecibo. So he thinks the telescope's death effectively ends the US's chance at a comprehensive project to search for radio waves from alien technology.
"The only place that we have to do something like that, that'd be sensitive or more sensitive than Arecibo, is now FAST in China," Mendez said, referring to the Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical radio Telescope in Guizhou province. "The United States lost all that capability because it doesn't have Arecibo."
Arecibo and FAST, Mendez said, were Earth's "two big eyes" in radio astronomy.
"If you are monitoring a source of interest which is in the weak radio spectrum, you need two big radio telescopes: one pointing towards something during the day and the other through the nighttime," he explained. "If you lose Arecibo, then you lose the ability to monitor — 24 hours a day — a faint source of radio signals."
He added: "Now we just have one eye."
'We're working against the clock'
It will likely take about five or six weeks to figure out how to safely deconstruct the Arecibo telescope. Engineers will assess their options from afar, with drones snapping aerial photos.
The engineers are also considering ways to buy extra time, such as potentially tilting the towers a few inches to reduce weight on the remaining cables.
"We're working against the clock," Gaume said.
The technical reports that spell the death of Arecibo are embedded below.
If engineers can take apart the telescope before it destroys itself, the Arecibo Observatory will still be able to conduct some scientific research. Its LIDAR lasers can study Earth's upper atmosphere and ionosphere. It also has a facility on the island of Culebra that collects data on cloud cover and precipitation.
Future researchers could also still analyze archived data from the telescope.
WINDSOR, Va., July 24, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Farmers Bankshares, Inc. (OTC-PINK: FBVA) reports unaudited earnings of $1.3 million, or $0.42 per share, for the second quarter of 2020. These results are in line with the $1.3 million, or $0.42 per share, earned during the second quarter of 2019.
Return on average assets on an annualized basis was 0.96% for the second quarter of 2020, a decrease from 1.15% for the second quarter of 2019. Return on average equity during the second quarter of 2020 was 7.94% as compared to 10.38% for the second quarter of 2019. Return on average tangible common equity (1) was 9.64% for the period ended June 30, 2020 and compared to 12.83% for the period ended June 30, 2019.
Net loans have increased $25.9 million, or 9.92%, as compared to December 31, 2019. The increase was primarily driven by loans associated with the Company's participation in the CARES Act's Paycheck Protection Program ("PPP"). The Bank serviced customers through the PPP with 257 loans totaling approximately $24.9 million processed through the end of the second quarter. Deposit balances have increased by $42.1 million to $427.6 million as of June 30, 2020 from $385.5 million as of December 31, 2019. Non-interest bearing deposits increased by $25.0 million and make up approximately 33.04% of total deposits. Customer stimulus payments and PPP loan fundings both contributed to this increase in deposits. Net interest income decreased 3.03% when comparing the second quarter of 2020 to the second quarter of 2019. Net interest margin for the second quarter decreased to 3.47%, including PPP and 3.55% excluding PPP, when compared to the second quarter of 2019 of 3.85%. This reduction is primarily due to the impact of significantly lower market interest rates since the second quarter of 2019 and the rate associated with loans originated through the PPP.
"I am pleased with our financial results for the first half of 2020, especially given the current interest rate environment and challenging economic situation. I am most proud of the way our entire team have shown a new level of commitment and support for our customers and communities while navigating these unparalleled times. Being a community bank, we strive to be flexible to meet the changing needs of our customers and present conditions have proven we are able to do that. We successfully opened our branch in the Pungo area of Virginia Beach during the second quarter and are very encouraged with the reception from that community." said Vernon M. Towler, President and Chief Executive Officer.
Non-interest income through the second quarter of 2020 was approximately $4.3 million and was increased by 9.61% over the same period in the prior year due primarily to increased insurance revenues from Manry Rawls Insurance and our investment in Tidewater Home Funding. Non-interest expense decreased by 2.61% during the second quarter 2020 compared to same period in 2019. This decrease was partially due to deferred salary costs related to participation in the PPP and reduced marketing expenses after celebrating our 100th anniversary in the prior year. Provision for loan losses of $526 thousand was added during the second quarter, bringing year to date provisions to $651 thousand for 2020 compared to $0 for the same period in 2019. Our allowance for loan losses was 2.11% of gross loans as of June 30, 2020, including loans originated through the PPP, and 2.30% of gross loans excluding loan originated through the PPP (1). Of the $37.6 million in loans that were on a payment deferral plan as of the end of the first quarter of 2020, $36.6 million have returned to a normal payment schedule as of June 30, 2020.
"We remain committed to managing our balance sheet in a manner that enables us to meet our long-term strategic goals while providing shareholders a competitive rate of return. A large deposit repriced, to lower current market rates, during the second quarter and helped to stabilize net interest margin when compared to the first quarter of 2020. While our credit metrics remain very healthy and have shown little deterioration, we did increase loan loss reserves during the second quarter to account for the high level of economic uncertainty. Consistent returns from our insurance subsidiary and favorable results from our mortgage partnership also contributed positively to second quarter earnings. Liquidity and capital levels remain strong and position us well for future opportunities." stated Kristy DeJarnette, Chief Financial Officer.
Non-GAAP financial measure. Return on average tangible common equity excludes goodwill and intangibles.
Farmers Bank, founded in 1919, is headquartered in Windsor, VA, and is a community bank which operates eight branches and services areas throughout Tidewater Virginia. Additional information is available at the company's website, www.farmersbankva.com.
The common stock of Farmers Bankshares, Inc. trades as an Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board stock under the symbol FBVA. Any stockbroker can assist with purchase of the company's stock, as well as with sales of holdings.
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