Broken cable at iconic Arecibo Observatory damaged its radio telescope

Shane McGlaun - Aug 15, 2020, 12:04 pm CDT
Broken cable at iconic Arecibo Observatory damaged its radio telescope

There are many radio telescope facilities worldwide, but one of the most famous and iconic is located in Puerto Rico. The radio telescope is at the Arecibo Observatory, and recently a cable there mysteriously failed leading to damage to the telescope. Officials are still unsure what caused the cable to fail.

The failure happened on Monday, August 10, when an auxiliary cable that supported a platform suspended above the 1000-foot-wide radio dish broke and crashed into the telescope reflector panels. The crash created a gash in the reflector that was about 100-feet long.

The damage forced the telescope to be shut down temporarily. The damage was very significant and the failure occurred despite the cable being expected the last another 15 to 20 years. The cable was added in the ’90s to help support a new addition to the telescope called the Gregorian dome that houses an antenna receiver on the platform.

Officials have stated that the broken cable damaged 6 to 8 panels on the Gregorian dome and that the platform used to access the dome was slightly twisted. It’s unclear at this time if any of the scientific instruments inside the dome were affected.

The first priority at the site is to ensure the platform’s structural stability and keep staff safe. No one was injured in the accident, which happened at about 2:45 AM EDT when the facility was closed. Had the cable broken during business hours, there is the possibility that staff could’ve been injured. The telescope has been shut down indefinitely until it can be repaired, and research being conducted with the telescope has been postponed. There is no indication that sabotage was at play at this time.

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