The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, once the largest radio telescope in the world made famous by appearances in films including ”Goldeneye,” ”Species,” and ”Contact,” will have to be demolished because failures in cables have left its instrument platform suspended above the reflecting dish too unstable to repair.
“After reviewing the engineering assessment, we have found no path forward that would allow us to do so safely,” CBS News quoted Sean Jones, assistant director for the Mathematical and Physical Sciences Directorate at the National Science Foundation, which operates the 1,000-foot-wide telescope through the University of Central Florida.
“We know that a delay in decision making leaves the entire facility at risk of an uncontrolled collapse, unnecessarily jeopardizing people and also the additional facilities.”
The platform is a 900-ton receiver held 450 feet above the reflecting antenna — built into a bowl-like depression in the ground — by cables attached to three support towers.
One of the auxiliary cables pulled out of its socket in August and fell to the dish below, creating a 100-foot gash. While repair plans were being developed, a main 3-inch cable attached to the same tower snapped in November, causing the instrument platform to tilt and placing additional stress on the remaining cables.
An engineering firm hired by the University of Central Florida has said it doesn’t even want to risk a stress test on the remaining cables, concerned it could cause a catastrophic collapse.
”The telescope is at serious risk of an unexpected, uncontrolled collapse,” said Ralph Gaume, director of NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences. “According to engineering assessment, even attempted stabilization, or testing the cable, could result in accelerating the catastrophic failure.”
The facility has been operating for 57 years, but now is being planned for a controlled demolition. Officials are hoping to preserve an adjoining laser and visitor’s center.