We mentioned back in August that a cable failure at the iconic Arecibo
Observatory caused significant damage to the dish of the radio telescope.
Sadly, a second cable at the radio observatory has failed, and the famous
1000-foot diameter radio telescope will have to be demolished. An
engineering firm called Thorton Tomasetti has determined that the radio
dish and the 900-ton instrument platform are too unstable for repair.
Arecibo was once the largest single-dish radio telescope in the entire
world and has been in service for 57 years. The telescope receives funding
from the US National Science Foundation and was operated by the University
of Central Florida. It has been featured in movies, including Contact and
After the first support cable snapped and slashed a 100-foot gap in the
dish, the plan was to repair it. However, the second cable snapped on
November 6. The second cable breaking was unexpected because it was well
below its expected breaking strength. Further inspection found that other
main cables had broken wires and some auxiliary cables were slipping from
The current plan is to dismantle the instrument’s remaining components and
temporarily close other installations on the site. Equipment that could
potentially be damaged if the telescope components catastrophically fail
is being moved. Once the giant radio telescope’s demolition is complete,
the science and education centers will be restored.
There is no indication at this time that the telescope itself will be
rebuilt. Scientists say that the Arecibo Observatory has transformed our
understanding of the ionosphere and has been used to search for life in
the cosmos with the SETI program. Dismantling the radio telescope is
necessary to preserve the ability to use other assets at the observatory.
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