Historic Arecibo telescope collapses after multiple cable breaks

Chris Burns - Dec 1, 2020, 9:56am CST
Historic Arecibo telescope collapses after multiple cable breaks

A complete collapse of the instrument platform of the Arecibo Observatory’s 305m telescope collapsed last night. The collapse was confirmed this morning by the National Science Foundation in a series of official messages. The NSF is working with stakeholders to “assess the situation”, and no injuries were reported. Per an NSF representative: “Our top priority is maintaining safety.”

“NSF is saddened by this development,” said an NSF representative. “As we move forward, we will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain our strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico.”

The first major damage occurred in August of 2020, when an auxiliary cable failed. The cable caused significant damage, slicing a gash in the dish below. After a second (more major) cable failed in November, engineering assessments suggested the platform needed to be dismantled to avoid catastrophic failure.

Per an AP report, in the early morning hours of December 1, 2020, further cable failure caused the telescope’s receiver platform to plunge and crash into the reflector dish 400+ feet below. The 900-ton receiver platform and the reflector dish below are now almost certainly beyond any realistic sort of repair.

Take a peek back at the August incident where the cable incident started the chain of events that’d eventually lead to the ultimate demise of the telescope and the equipment below.

Starting in early 1960s, the Arecibo Telescope became the world’s largest single-aperture telescope. It retained this top spot for more than 50 years, and was surpassed in size in 2016 by China’s Five-hundred-meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST). You might remember seeing the facility in one or more of its several movie and TV appearances, in such films as James Bond’s GoldenEye, Species, Contact, and The X-Files episode “Little Green Men.” Take a peek at the timeline below to follow the final leg of this journey toward the end.

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