Another cable failure means the end for the iconic Arecibo radio telescope

Another cable failure means the end for the iconic Arecibo radio telescope

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 Goldeneye.

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 their sockets.

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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