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This failing radio telescope in Puerto Rico is collapsing under its own weight

Published Dec 2nd, 2020 12:18AM EST
Image: University of Central Florida

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  • The historic Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has had a rough year after a partial collapse in August.
  • Two additional collapses have now occurred, and the telescope is slated for destruction soon.
  • The telescope’s cables have been failing, and most recently a large platform fell from its perch high above the dish.

The massive radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory

in Puerto Rico has had as tough of a year as any of us. The structure suffered a collapse and severe damage in August and as engineers planned for repairs, further damage occurred, leading to the tough decision to decommission the telescope entirely.

Now, just weeks after the decision was made to demolish the telescope, the structure has begun to take care of that all on its own, further collapsing and posing an interesting problem for workers who are tasked with breaking it down. The telescope, which has been offline for some time already, is now well and truly dead.

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As CNN reports, news of the new damage was announced by the National Science Foundation, which runs the observatory. This new twist comes in the form of a platform that had been dangling perilously above the dish falling, creating additional damage and causing even more of a headache for the folks who will have to try to dismantle the telescope without injuring themselves or others.

“The instrument platform of the 305m telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico fell overnight. No injuries were reported. NSF is working with stakeholders to assess the situation. Our top priority is maintaining safety. NSF will release more details when they are confirmed,” the National Science Foundation said in a tweet. “NSF is saddened by this development. 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.”

Following the original collapse back in August, it was believed that the telescope could be repaired and used again. Engineers began planning how to get the telescope back in working condition, and as they were waiting for the delivery of some support cables to aid them in the repairs, another cable snapped. This, the National Science Foundation said, was a sign that the remaining structure was not in good enough condition for it to be safe to embark on repair operations. It was then decided that the telescope would be decommissioned and destroyed in the near future.

Now, the structure appears to be getting impatient with the destruction timeline and it’s doing it on its own. That’s not great, especially when workers will be trying to take the telescope apart without any unexpected collapses or cable failures. One way or another, the telescope is coming down, so let’s all keep our fingers crossed that nobody is injured in the process.

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