delara news Delaware Amateur Radio Association, Delaware OH   VOL 36 NUMBER 10

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Amateur Radio Reports: Arecibo Observatory Dish Sustained Serious Damage from Maria

(Dale, W8KTQ, John, W8RXX, and Roy W8REH have a special interest here, their presentation on Arecibo was a hit at one of our DELARA meetings!  So there’s quite a bit of local interest. -ed) Articles on the National Geographic and websites last weekend cited Amateur Radio reports that Puerto Rico's Arecibo Observatory came through Hurricane Maria largely intact but "with some significant damage." Universities Space Research Association (USRA), which helps to operate the Observatory, said it learned via "short wave radio contact" that staff and family members sheltering at Arecibo are safe.   The famous Arecibo Observatory dish. "The major structures, including the 300-meter telescope, are intact, though suffered some damage when the atmospheric radar line feed broke off, and falling debris from it punctured the dish in several places," USRA reported on its website. "Also, a separate 12-meter dish used as a phase reference for Very Long Baseline Interferometry was lost." Observatory officials are still assessing the damage, but Jim Breakall, WA3FET, of Penn State University, told ARRL that the 96-foot line feed antenna at 430 MHz is "historically the key piece to the observatory." It's also the antenna that he and others have used for Amateur Radio moonbounce activities from Arecibo. The Observatory is home to KP4AO. "To hear that this 10,000-pound key piece to the Observatory fell and hit the 1,000-meter dish is just a huge shock," Breakall said last Saturday. "This antenna was connected to the 2.5 million W 430-MHz radar transmitter that was a key to ionospheric experiments. It is a great loss for sure." Angel Vazquez, WP3R, who manages radio telescope operations at the Observatory, was one of the only radio amateurs able to pass along any information; among those he contacted was Princeton University professor and Nobel Laureate Joe Taylor, K1JT. Vazquez was using a generator that, Breakall told ARRL, was not working very well. "Many others have heard about all of this and have come to help relay messages to loved ones and friends to let people know they are okay," Breakall added.   The line feed antenna can be seen pointing downward from the overhead array of equipment. Breakall said he's less concerned to learn that his own Amateur Radio contest station, on a hill not far from the Observatory, was destroyed by Hurricane Maria. "While this is sad for me and others, my concern is with the safety and health of many friends and the people of Puerto Rico in General," he said. This is my second home, and many of the people there I treat as my brothers and sisters." USRA reported last weekend that the access road to the Observatory was covered with debris and impassable. Breakall told ARRL that he's worried about what might happen in the weeks and months ahead. "I just hope that desperation does not set in, and things get out of hand there," he said. "It is going to be very tough."
© DELARA News, the official monthly newsletter of the Delaware Amateur Radio Association, Delaware, OH