"We have seen some individual wire breaks on that particular cable, but we hadn't seen any change for weeks," Francisco Cordova, the director of the observatory, told Space.com. But just as engineers were ready to begin repairs on that secondary cable, which slipped out of its socket in August, they faced a much more serious challenge: one of the main cables unexpectedly snapped, putting the entire facility at risk. Staff at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico are safe, but the storm destroyed a key instrument, and conditions in surrounding towns are still unknown. ", The same is true of the damage the dish has accumulated during the incidents, he said. Image : Ricardo Arduengo/AFP via Getty Images ( Getty Images ) The full extent of the damage is still being assessed. In 2017, Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico but mostly spared Arecibo. This will allow the observatory to serve as a hub for research and education in the future. Therefore, the NSF will decommission Arecibo Observatory… On its way down, it damaged observation facilities suspended above the dish, as well as gouging a 100-foot-long (30 meters) "gash" in the fragile dish, according to a statement from the University of Central Florida, which operates the facility. No one was expecting the snap on Nov. 6 as engineers at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico weighed their options for dealing with damage to the facility from a cable failure over the summer. A view of Arecibo Observatory's suspended platform and science equipment, as seen before damage incurred in 2020. Broken Cable Damages Arecibo Observatory The main collecting dish is among the world’s largest single-dish radio telescopes. Read more. Engineers were assessing and working on a plan to repair the damage when another main cable on the tower broke on November 6. "Until these assessments came in, our question was not if the observatory should be repaired but how. "When you can't access the attachment points for these cables, then that becomes a big challenge.". This photo shows damage caused to Arecibo Observatory in August. Observations made by the telescope helped discover the first binary pulsar in 1974 (which led to the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics), supported NASA's Viking mission, produced the first radar maps of Venus' surface and spotted the first exoplanet in 1992. The telescope has supported and contributed to important discoveries in radio astronomy as well as planetary and solar system research, including gravitational waves. This led to the NSF making the decision to decommission the telescope after 57 years. But any "stress tests" of the cables are being avoided because they could collapse the telescope. The Arecibo Observatory, a vast and famous telescope that has helped map the cosmos, will be demolished. Even if engineers could safely fix all the damage and add cables to support the telescope, it would likely have stability issues in the future. Visit our corporate site. Friday 04 December 2020 16:16 The world-famous Arecibo Observatory has collapsed after sustaining significant damage. Amanda Kooser On the ground, Cordova said, the damage doesn't look as bad as it really is. Multiple engineering companies reviewed the damage. "NSF prioritizes the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory's staff and visitors, which makes this decision necessary, although unfortunate," said NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan in a statement. More recently, Arecibo detected organic molecules in a distant galaxy and discovered the first repeating fast radio burst. They determined that the telescope could collapse because it is "in danger of catastrophic failure" and the cables are weaker than expected. Thank you for signing up to Space. Arecibo Observatory, home of the second largest radio telescope in the world, was badly damaged in 2017 when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! At risk is not just the observatory's half-century history of research spanning astronomy, atmospheric studies, near-Earth asteroids and the search for life beyond Earth. Future US, Inc. 11 West 42nd Street, 15th Floor, "We believe the structure will collapse in the near future if left untouched," according to a letter by engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti. In 2014, a strong earthquake damaged parts of the facility, including a cable that the facility's managers were hoping to replace later this year. "When you have access to the towers, when you have access to the platform, there's a million ways you can remove a failed cable, hoist a new cable, things like that," Cordova said. What's sending mysterious repeating fast radio bursts in space? A main cable that supports Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico broke Friday evening, compounding damage caused by a smaller cable failure in August, according to the site manager. An auxiliary cable came loose from a socket on one of the towers in August, creating a 100-foot gash in the dish. Arecibo Observatory damage: White House urged to SAVE radio telescope It had been hoped workers would be able to safely disassemble the observatory, but this has also proved to be not the case. ", The firm also recommended that this be carried out "as soon as pragmatically possible.". The Arecibo telescope played a key role in discovering the first planet outside our solar system and has helped astronomers identify potentially hazardous asteroids en route to Earth. After this undertaking is complete, the NSF plans to focus on restoring operations at the observatory. In the meantime, scientists connected to Arecibo Observatory are hoping for the best. Fortunately, archival data from the telescope will be migrated to servers outside of the danger zone, continuing the tradition of research and discovery by the telescope for years to come. "Certainly the dish is fairly damaged," Cordova said, "[but] whenever you look at how big our primary reflector is and you look at what the damage is, it also doesn't look like something that's insurmountable.". The observatory has withstood hurricanes, earthquakes and tropical storms over the years. © Space is part of Future US Inc, an international media group and leading digital publisher. Further evaluations of the broken cable will be conducted, only if they can be carried out safely, to see if they can glean more evidence that could shape their plans. The world's largest digital camera could unlock mysteries of the universe, First US observatory named in honor of a female astronomer, Vera Rubin. Please deactivate your ad blocker in order to see our subscription offer. "Certainly now with this failure, we understand that that capacity's just not there and that there has been other degradation.". The Arecibo Observatory, a huge and previously damaged radio telescope in Puerto Rico that played a key role in astronomical discoveries for more than half a century, completely collapsed on Tuesday. A view of damage to the Arecibo Observatory dish caused by a cable failure in August 2020. An auxiliary cable came loose from a socket on one of the towers in August, creating a 100-foot gash in the dish. This image shows an overview of the damage to Arecibo Observatory's 305-meter telescope in November. Facing increasing budget pressure, the NSF gradually phased out its funding, transferring operations first to SRI International and then to the University of Central Florida, although the NSF still owns the site. A drone view of damage to a cable at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico captured after a second cable failed on Nov. 6, 2020. "I'm totally scared of what's happening at the observatory now. New York, The observatory's helipad and well water were vital resources for those living near the facility. But in the end, a preponderance of data showed that we simply could not do this safely. Damage at the Arecibo Observatory in August, 2020. Credit: NSF/NAIC. "I am so worried about it," a scientist familiar with the facility said. ", "It's a precarious situation," he added, "and we just kind of have to wait and see.". I am so worried about it. Arecibo Observatory’s main collecting dish, which is among the world’s largest single-dish radio telescopes, was badly damaged when a cable snapped on Monday, Aug. 10. The observatory, which was featured in the James Bond film "GoldenEye," was completed in 1963 and has been helmed by the NSF since 1970. While no direct cause for the breaks has been identified, corrosion is suspected as the main issue. Photos of the damage make it seem particularly nasty, but Arecibo’s main reflector dish is comprised of 40,000 panels — making the overall destruction very small. A resident of Puerto Rico captured aerial footage of the Arecibo Observatory after the telescope’s 900-ton receiver platform fell onto the reflector dish more than 400 feet below on December 1.Carlos G Saavedra Padin recorded this footage while on a helicopter and posted it to Twitter.Padin told Storyful he took the helicopter ride to see the condition of the observatory … "But this is such a massive structure that even that gets lost in the background size of the telescope platform itself. The latest review revealed that damage to the telescope could not be stabilized without risking staff and the construction team. An aerial view of the Arecibo Observatory after the collapse on December 1, 2020. The renowned Arecibo Observatory radio telescope in Puerto Rico, closed because of damage, completely collapsed Tuesday morning. The observatory's main instrument was the Arecibo Telescope, a 305 m (1,000 ft) spherical reflector dish built into a natural sinkhole, … The 305-meter telescope at Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico will be decommissioned, according to an announcement made by the. The spherical radio/radar telescope includes a radio dish 1,000 feet across and a 900-ton instrument platform suspended 450 feet above it. Arecibo Observatory, the famed radio telescope in Puerto Rico, has collapsed after operating for more than 50 years, according to multiple outlets. But for the observatory, things would only get worse. "Arecibo is still very much a telescope that is at the forefront of many areas and its loss would be tremendous," Campbell said. The NSF is also considering expanding the learning center, although the ongoing pandemic will impact that for the time being. Once the plans are in place, the telescope will be disassembled through a controlled demolition. Damage sustained at the Arecibo Observatory 305-meter telescope. This photo shows damage caused to Arecibo Observatory in August. Researchers are also gathering at regular virtual meetings, which Mendez described as "stress relief" sessions, to talk about the situation and to share memories of the facility. While the telescope will be decommissioned, the NSF plans to preserve as much of the observatory as it can. The process to decommission a telescope is a complicated one. Even if the repairs could be done safely, the engineering team determined the structure would present long-term stability issues. "For nearly six decades, the Arecibo Observatory has served as a beacon for breakthrough science and what a partnership with a community can look like. "Over its lifetime, Arecibo Observatory has helped transform our understanding of the ionosphere, showing us how density, composition and other factors interact to shape this critical region where Earth's atmosphere meets space," said Michael Wiltberger, head of NSF's Geospace Section, in a statement. But the past few years have been difficult on the observatory. It's also Earth's prime sentinel for identifying whether specific asteroids are on a path to hit the planet — and it appeared in the blockbuster movies like James Bond's "GoldenEye" and "Contact," no less. "Hopefully in the next couple days, we'll have that decision," Cordova said. "You don't see a whole lot of difference when you look at the platform — certainly you do see a couple of extra cables that are hanging down that shouldn't be, they should really be pointing up, and they're pointing down," Cordova said. Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico suffers serious damage after cable breaks The iconic Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has gone dark, at least for a little while. The operators of the observatory are hoping to move quickly but thoroughly through their plans to avoid a collapse. Updated 2:20 PM ET, Thu November 19, 2020. More concerning, scientists say, is the possibility of losing a unique facility with plenty of work left to do. Outside astronomers had to wait over a week to learn that the observatory was still standing. And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: community@space.com. "It's quite clearly an extremely worrisome situation," Don Campbell, who began his career at Arecibo in 1965 and eventually served as the observatory's director in the 1980s, told Space.com. Drones will provide photo surveys that help with the planning. Of interest is the LIDAR geospace research facility, the visitor center and the offsite Culebra facility for analyzing precipitation and cloud cover data. No one was expecting the snap on Nov. 6 as engineers at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico weighed their options for dealing with damage to the facility from a cable failure over the summer. I'm still somewhat hopeful. When it broke, the cable crashed into the reflector dish below, causing additional damage. Our image of the day. An engineering survey found the damage to the observatory cannot be stabilized without risk to construction workers and staff. Science operations have been suspended at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico after the radio telescope was damaged on Monday August 10. "NSF recognizes the cultural and economic significance of Arecibo Observatory to Puerto Rico, and how the telescope serves as an inspiration for Puerto Ricans considering education and employment in STEM," according to a, Mysterious radio waves detected from space, Arecibo Observatory featured in James Bond film "Goldeneye" shut down, Giant asteroid flying by Earth next week looks like it's wearing a face mask. Please refresh the page and try again. Update on Arecibo Observatory Facility After Telescope Damage Operations at the UCF-managed Arecibo Observatory (pictured here in the spring of 2019) are stopped until repairs can be made from an incident in August that caused a 100-foot-long gash on the telescope’s reflector dish. "The first cable failure was certainly a surprise and of strong concern … With the second cable failure, obviously things became significantly more serious.". Gut-Wrenching Photos Show Damage at Arecibo Observatory Following Collapse. The Arecibo Observatory houses the world's second-largest radio telescope. For more than 50 years, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico was home to the world's biggest single-aperture telescope. It is operated and managed by a team at the University of Central Florida, the Universidad Ana G. Méndez and Yang Enterprises Inc. Federal funding for the facility has been cut severely since then, and now a cable holding up the telescope has snapped, damaging the telescope and forcing Arecibo to close. (Image credit: University of Central Florida), (Image credit: Courtesy of the NAIC - Arecibo Observatory, a facility of the NSF), 'Greenland' offers grim take on how humanity will respond to a comet impact, Watch live @ 3 pm ET: NASA's 'Great Conjunction' guide to the Saturn-Jupiter 'Christmas Star', SpaceX aborts US spy satellite launch due to rocket booster pressure issue, Boeing reveals mission patch for second Starliner orbital flight test, Pictures from space! When the month ended and the earthquakes with it, Puerto Ricans celebrated the new year afresh, hoping that the worst of the year was over, Abel Mendez, a planetary astrobiologist at the University of Puerto Rico who regularly brings students to observe at Arecibo, told Space.com — only to face the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March. NY 10036. On Aug. 10th, a little over a month ago, the iconic Arecibo Observatory suffered serious damage when an auxiliary cable broke and struck the reflector dish. (CNN)After decades of aiding astronomical discoveries, one of the most powerful telescopes on Earth will cease its observation of the universe after sustaining irreparable damage. As feared, the 900-ton instrument platform collapsed yesterday at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto . Arecibo was designed by a scientist at Cornell University, which operated the facility until 2011, with the National Science Foundation (NSF) as the observatory's main funder. The Arecibo Observatory, also known as the National Astronomy and Ionosphere Center (NAIC), is an observatory in Arecibo, Puerto Rico owned by the US National Science Foundation (NSF).. Cables connected to three towers hold the telescope in place. And that is a line we cannot cross," said Ralph Gaume, director of NSF's Division of Astronomical Sciences, in a statement. Any part of the observatory at risk of a collapse has been evacuated and will stay closed. This aerial view shows the damage at the Arecibo Observatory after one of the main cables holding the receiver broke in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, on December 1, 2020. While this is a profound change, we will be looking for ways to assist the scientific community and maintain that strong relationship with the people of Puerto Rico.". The observatory has put together a suite of options for stabilizing the situation and is waiting for a decision from the National Science Foundation, which owns the facility, about how to proceed. The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico has been damaged by a broken cable. The first cable slipped out of its socket on Aug. 10 at 2:45 a.m. local time. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook. "Time right now is critical," Mendez told Space.com. "Controlled demolition, designed with a specific collapse sequence determined and implemented with the use of explosives, will reduce the uncertainty and danger associated with collapse. Arecibo Observatory telescope, a Puerto Rico landmark, collapses after damage After sustaining severe damage from a broken cable, the famed Arecibo Observatory telescope in Puerto Rico has collapsed. After the break on November 6, engineers inspected the rest of the cables and discovered new breaks as well as slippage from some of the sockets on the towers. There was a problem. "I'm very much keeping all my fingers crossed that they will figure out how to stabilize the structure and get it repaired. Nestled into a natural basin in the middle of the Puerto Rican jungle, the Arecibo Observatory began science work in 1963 and is the world's second-largest radio dish. The reflective dish is 1,000 feet in diameter, 167 feet deep, and covers an area of about 20 acres. Get breaking space news and the latest updates on rocket launches, skywatching events and more! Email Meghan Bartels at mbartels@space.com or follow her on Twitter @meghanbartels. In addition, several assessments stated that any attempt to make repairs could put the lives of workers in danger. Related: The Arecibo Observatory: Puerto Rico's giant radio telescope in photos, "That particular situation was evaluated by the engineering team and determined not to be an issue because the capacity of that cable was so much higher than the load that it was taking, that it really shouldn't have been a problem," Cordova said. 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