The huge Arecibo radio telescope, a destination for astronomers landed in the mountains of Puerto Rico, has collapsed, the National Science Foundation said on Tuesday.
The telescope’s 900-ton receiving platform, which was suspended by cables connected to three towers, fell on the 1,000-foot-long antenna sometime during the night, the foundation said.
“The platform fell unexpectedly,” said Joshua Chamotte, a spokesman for the foundation, which owns the telescope at the Arecibo Observatory. Officials said they were assessing the collapse before giving more details. They did not specify when the platform collapsed or why it fell.
The foundation announced on Nov. 19 that the telescope should be torn down after an auxiliary cable slipped out of its socket and left a 100-foot slot in the bottom of the vessel. The observatory is run by the University of Central Florida.
“The decision comes after the NSF evaluated numerous assessments by independent engineering companies, which found that the telescope’s design was at risk of catastrophic damage and its cables may no longer be able to withstand the loads they are designed to withstand,” the foundation said. last month.
On November 24, the foundation said engineers observed more interruptions in the wires of the other cables attached to one of the towers that hold the platform.
The observatory served as the vanguard of the search for extraterrestrial civilizations and astronomers used it to track killer asteroids.
For almost six decades, the observatory has been a well-known resource for radio astronomy and planetary research and has been of great cultural significance to Puerto Ricans. Many said they were inspired by the observatory to pursue a career in science and technology.
The telescope has established itself in popular culture and has been featured in films such as Contact and the James Bond film The Golden Eye.
The telescope emits signals to and from space, an ability to gather undiscovered details about the planets in the solar system, said Catherine Nais, an assistant professor of terrestrial science at the University of Western Ontario.
One of his early exploits, in 1967, was the discovery that the planet Mercury rotated in 59 days instead of 88, as astronomers originally thought.
“It was amazing technology,” said Dr. Neish.
But after years of hurricane damage and financial coercion, questions have arisen about the observatory’s future.
Puerto Ricans and astronomers had called on the foundation to repair the telescope instead of destroying it.
Prior to the collapse, nearly 60,000 people signed a petition calling on federal agencies to find a way to stabilize the structure.
But Thornton Tomasetti, an engineering firm hired by the University of Central Florida to evaluate the telescope, said the likelihood of another cable being damaged was too high to justify repairs.
“Although we are saddened to make this recommendation, we believe that the structure should be demolished in a controlled manner as soon as possible,” the company said in a letter to the university and the foundation.
On social media, scientists and Puerto Ricans who remembered visiting the observatory complained about the telescope after the collapse.
“This is a stunning loss to our scientific abilities,” Justin Kugler, an aerospace engineer, said on Twitter. “The United States must create a plan for a radio telescope receiver to build on Arecibo’s legacy and honor Puerto Rico’s commitment over the years.”
Dr Neish, a professor at the University of Western Ontario, said the loss of the telescope was not only devastating but also infuriating to scientists who believe the foundation could have done more to save it.
“It was not inevitable,” she said of the collapse. “If they had maintained it properly, it probably wouldn’t have happened.”
“It’s such a dignified end,” she added. “That’s what’s so sad about it.”
Dennis Overby contributed to the reporting.