A huge radio telescope in Puerto Rico that has played a key role in astronomical discoveries for more than half a century collapsed Tuesday, authorities said.
The telescope’s 900-ton receiver platform fell onto the reflector dish more than 400 feet below.
The National Science Foundation of the United States had previously announced that the Arecibo Observatory would be closed. An auxiliary cable broke in August, causing a 100-foot cut in the 1,000-foot-wide (305 m) reflector dish and damaging the receiver platform hanging above it. Then a main cable broke in early November.
The collapse surprised many scientists who had relied on what was until recently the largest radio telescope in the world.
“It’s a great 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 been petitioning US officials and others to reverse the NSF’s decision to close the observatory. The NSF said at the time that it intended to eventually reopen the visitor center and restore operations at the observatory’s remaining assets, including its two Lidar facilities used for upper atmosphere and ionospheric research, including coverage analysis. cloud and 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 anti-ballistic missile defenses. It had withstood hurricanes, tropical humidity and a recent series of earthquakes in its 57 years of operation.
The telescope has been used to track asteroids on their way to Earth, conduct research that led to a Nobel Prize, and determine whether a planet is potentially habitable. It also served as a training ground for graduate students and attracted some 90,000 visitors a year.
“I’m one of those students who visited him when he was young and got inspired,” said Abel Méndez, a professor of physics and astrobiology at the University of Puerto Rico in Arecibo who has used the telescope for research. “The world without an observatory loses, but Puerto Rico loses even more.”
The last time he used the telescope was on August 6, just days before a plug holding the broken auxiliary cable failed in what experts believe could be a manufacturing error. The National Science Foundation, which owns the observatory that is run by the University of Central Florida, said teams that evaluated the structure after the first incident determined that the remaining cables could support the additional weight.
But on November 6, another cable broke.
A spokesperson for the observatory said there would be no immediate comment and a spokeswoman for the University of Central Florida did not respond to requests for comment.
Scientists had used the telescope to study pulsars to detect gravitational waves, as well as to search for neutral hydrogen, which can reveal how certain cosmic structures form. Some 250 scientists from around the world had been using the observatory when it closed in August, including Méndez, who was studying stars for habitable planets.
“I’m trying to recover,” he said. “I am still very affected.”
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