Broken Cable Smashes One of World's Largest Radio Telescopes

Thanks to a broken cable, one of the world's largest single-dish radio telescopes now has a 100-foot hole in it.
Derya Ozdemir

Arecibo Observatory, which has seen its moment of fame in Carl Sagan's novel Contact and the James Bond film "GoldenEye", has suffered severe damage due to an auxiliary cable snapping and smashing the telescope's reflector dish. 

The telescope, which is used by scientists to detect radio emissions emitted by faraway objects, is one of the world's largest single-aperture radio telescopes and stretches 1,000 feet over a sinkhole in northern Puerto Rico. However, after the accident, it now has a 100-foot hole in it.

Reasons for the accident are unknown

The observatory was in a lockdown due to Tropical Storm Isaias and had recently opened, announcing they were returning to track an asteroid for NASA. 

However, the opening was short-lived. The accident took place at about 2:45 AM local time on Monday when the cable, which helped support a metal platform, snapped and tore a 100-foot hole in the gargantuan dish.

Broken Cable Smashes One of World's Largest Radio Telescopes
Source: Arecibo Observatory

The cause of the failure remains unknown, according to the University of Central Florida, a co-operator of the telescope. Now, right after its opening, the facility has been closed again for the engineers to assess the damage.


In the UCF statement, Francisco Cordova said, "We have a team of experts assessing the situation. Our focus is assuring the safety of our staff, protecting the facilities and equipment, and restoring the facility to full operations as soon as possible, so it can continue to assist scientists around the world."

Not the first accident to happen

This is not the first time Arecibo has suffered great damage, with one example happening during Hurricane Maria in 2017. However, the cable accident "is the largest structural damage" since the hurricane, says Abel Méndez, director of the Planetary Habitability Laboratory at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo.

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In an email to Vice, Méndez further stated that the science observations will be delayed due to the accident. Their team was studying Barnard's Star, which is one of the closes systems to the Sun, and was close to finishing their observations

He continued by saying, "We still need to observe other stars, including some with potentially habitable planets, in the following months. Our observations are not time-critical, but others might be, [for example] nearby asteroids with close approaches soon."

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