The once world’s largest radio telescope in Puerto Rico has collapsed. Due to previous damage, plans had already been made to dismantle the telescope at the Arecibo observatory – on Tuesday, the 900-ton instrument platform fell onto the bowl below, according to the US National Science Foundation (NSF).
According to initial findings, the top parts of all three supporting towers have broken off. In addition to the bowl, the learning center of the observatory was also badly damaged by falling steel cables.
“We are saddened by this situation, but thankful that no one was injured,” said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan. Even if the telescope is lost, the remaining parts of the system must now be put back into operation.
It was not until November 19 that the NSF announced that, according to experts, there was a risk of catastrophic failure of the telescope’s structure. His cables may no longer be able to carry the loads intended for them. Repairs are not possible in a safe way; therefore preparations would be made to disassemble the telescope.
In August, a steel cable about three inches thick that supported a metal platform broke for unknown reasons. As it fell, it had cracked the telescope’s reflector bowl about 30 meters long and damaged the dome and a platform. In addition, there was damage caused to the observatory by Hurricane Maria 2017. The telescope should be repaired. Then on November 6, a main cable tore, according to NSF.
The radio telescope in the US suburb of Puerto Rico was the largest in the world with a diameter of 305 meters until 2016, when an even larger one went into operation in China. It was also a popular tourist attraction – especially after it was used as a backdrop in the 1995 James Bond film “GoldenEye”.
The telescope was commissioned in 1963 and was ultimately still one of the most sensitive in the world. In 1974 the US astronomers Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor discovered with him the double pulsar PSR 1913 + 16 – two neutron stars orbiting each other – and indirectly observed gravitational waves with it. Radio telescopes collect radio waves from space that are converted into images.