This is a sad day for the world of astronomy. The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico – home to an epic 305-meter (1,000 feet) telescope – is saying goodbye. The observatory suffered serious structural damage when a cable broke in August, and it only got worse.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced on Thursday that it will begin plans to decommission the telescope, ending the device̵
“The decision comes after NSF evaluated a number of 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 support,” it said. in a statement to the NSF.
In early November, a second cable failed. This was the main cable and it broke and fell into the reflector plate, damaging both the plate and the other cables nearby. The cables are designed to support a 900-ton platform that hangs 450 feet above the vessel.
“Each of the other cables in the structure now carries more weight than before, increasing the likelihood of another cable failure that is likely to cause the entire structure to collapse,” a statement from the University of Central Florida said on November 13. UCF manages the facility for the National Science Foundation.
The observatory was the backdrop of a dramatic battle in the 1995 James Bond film The Golden Eye with Pierce Brosnan. He also appeared in Jodie Foster’s 1997 film Contact. But Arecibo’s true legacy lies in the many scientific discoveries he has made possible. He studied pulsars, expanded our knowledge of Mercury, spotted exoplanets, and detected rapid radio bursts.
Scientists took to Twitter to mourn the observatory. “It’s such a huge scientific blow. It’s the end of an era,” said planetary scientist Tanya Harrison.
Field geophysicist Mika McKinnon tweeted, “I’m amazed we’re losing Arecibo. Even if you don’t pay much attention to terrestrial astronomy, you know this telescope from pop culture and movies. It’s somewhere special.”
The NSF decommissioning plan will focus on the telescope while trying to preserve the surrounding structures of the observatory. “Once all the necessary preparations have been made, the telescope will be subjected to controlled disassembly,” the foundation said.