The Arecibo Telescope Has Suffered a Fatal Collapse, Smashing It Into Pieces

Rodiano Bonacci
Dicembre 2, 2020

The Arecibo telescope was the largest radio telescope in the world for most of its existence.

"We are saddened by this situation but thankful that no one was hurt", says NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan.

What happened to the telescope?

The telescope's 900-tonne receiver platform and the Gregorian dome - a structure as tall as a four-storey building that houses secondary reflectors - fell onto the northern portion of the vast reflector dish more than 120m below. The NSF, which helped manage the telescope, said in November that efforts to fix the structure would be too risky and therefore it would have to be demolished.

Two cables supporting the reflector dish had broken since August, causing damage and forcing officials to close the observatory.

"It was very hard because yesterday there was a lot of sadness, a lot of regret and concerns", Martorell said, explaining that in the days prior, officials at the site had found that more cables were breaking.

Jonathan Friedman, who worked for 26 years as a senior research associate at the observatory and still lives near it, told the Associated Press news agency of the moment the telescope collapsed on Tuesday.

Following the announcement, three members of Congress, including Puerto Rico's representative Jenniffer González, requested funds "to enable the NSF to continue exploring options to safely stabilise the structure".

It sounded like a rumble. I was screaming. Personally, I was out of control ...

In demolishing Arecibo, NSF said it would try to save as numerous surrounding structures and facilities as possible while maintaining the location as a place of education and learning. It's a very deep, bad feeling.

"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 NSF said in a tweet.

What is the history of the telescope?

But it was soon being used as an all-purpose radio observatory.

The telescope helped to make the first definitive detection of exoplanets, planetary bodies orbiting other stars, in 1992.

Scientists used it to find and follow asteroids on a path to Earth.

An action scene from the James Bond film "GoldenEye" took place above the telescope, and in the film "Contact" an astronomer played by Jodie Foster used the observatory in her quest for alien signals.

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