A huge radio telescope in Puerto Rico that has played a key role in astronomical discoveries for more than half a century collapsed on Tuesday, officials said.
The telescope’s 900-ton receiver platform fell on the reflector dish more than 400 feet below.
The US National Science Foundation previously announced that the Arecibo Observatory would be closed. An auxiliary cable snapped in August, causing a 100-foot gash on the 305m-wide reflector and damaged the receiver platform that hung above it. Then a main cable broke in early November.
The collapse stunned many scientists who had relied on what was until recently the largest radio telescope in the world.
“It’s a huge loss,” said Carmen Pantoja, an astronomer and professor at the University of Puerto Rico who used the telescope for her doctorate. “It was a chapter in my life.”
Scientists around the world had asked US officials and others to reverse the NSF’s decision to close the observatory. NSF said at the time it intended to finally reopen the visitor center and restore operations at the observatory’s remaining assets, including its two Lidar facilities used for superior atmospheric and ionospheric research, including cloud cover and cloud cover analysis. precipitation data.
The telescope was built in the 1960s with money from the US Department of Defense in the midst of a push to develop ballistic missile defenses. It had endured hurricanes, tropical humidity and a recent series of earthquakes in its 57 years of operation.
The telescope was used to track asteroids on a path to Earth, conduct research that led to a Nobel Prize, and determine if a planet is potentially habitable. It also served as a training camp for graduate students and attracted around 90,000 visitors a year.
“I’m one of those students who visited it as a young man and got inspired,” said Abel Mendez, professor of physics and astrobiology at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo who used the telescope for research. “The world without the observatory loses, but Puerto Rico loses even more”.
The last time he used the telescope was on August 6, just days before a socket holding the auxiliary cable snapped failed in what experts believe may be a manufacturing error. The National Science Foundation, which owns the observatory run by the University of Central Florida, said crews who evaluated the facility after the first crash determined that the remaining cables could carry the additional weight.
But on November 6 another cable broke.
A spokesperson for the observatory said there will be no immediate comment and a spokesperson for the University of Central Florida did not respond to requests for comment.
Scientists used the telescope to study pulsars to detect gravitational waves and to search for neutral hydrogen, which can reveal how certain cosmic structures are formed. About 250 scientists around the world had used the observatory when it closed in August, including Mendez, who was studying the stars for habitable planets.
“I’m trying to recover,” he said. “I’m still very impressed.”