Arecibo Observatory Collapse

End of an Era! Giant Alien-Hunting Radio Telescope Finally Collapses After Cable Failure.

After being in operation for 57 years, the Arecibo observatory has finally met its demise. On December 1, at 8 AM local time, the 900-ton instrument platform suspended above the collecting dish collapsed as the suspending cables weakened over time. The collapse occurred 2 weeks after the National Science Foundation decided to dismantle the telescope due to 2 cable failures earlier this year.

“We can confirm the platform fell and that we have reports of no injuries. We will release additional details as they are confirmed,” Robert Margutta, National Science Foundation (NSF)

Arecibo Observatory
Latest Image of Arecibo Observatory After the collapse occurred.

In its 57 years of operation, the observatory endured many hurricanes, humidity, and earthquakes. These factors caused a support cable to breakdown, causing a huge setback in the telescope’s operations. As engineers came out with a plan to stabilize the structure, another cable broke down on November 6th, causing massive damage to the collecting dish and the platform suspended above it. Following 2 cable breakdowns within a year, the National Science Foundation (NSF) declared the structure too weak dangerous to be repaired, and hence it was to be dismantled.

But the telescope couldn’t survive until the scheduled dismantlement. Just within 2 weeks after NSF announced its plan, the rest of the cables broke down because of the excessive load they were bearing due to the collapse of 2 cables earlier.

Also Watch: A Tribute to Arecibo Radio Telescope | End of an Era

Why Was Arecibo So Special?

Being one of the oldest telescopes in the world, Arecibo was an asset to science. Here are some of the most contributions that the telescope made in its nearly six decades of operation.

  • In 1964, a team of researchers used the telescope to determine the correct rotational period of Mercury. They found that Mercury spins on its axis once every 59 days, and not 88 days as previously thought.
  • In 1968, Arecibo was used to determine the periodicity of the crab pulsar. This provided the first solid evidence for the existence of neutron stars.
  • In 1974, researchers using the Arecibo telescope discovered the first binary pulsar. This discovery was awarded the 1982 Nobel Prize in Physics.
  • In 1982, the first millisecond pulsar PSR B1937+21 was also discovered using this telescope. Spinning 642 times per second, it was the fastest spinning pulsar until the discovery of PSR J1748-2446ad in 2006.
  • In 1989, the observatory directly imaged an asteroid for the first time in history: 4769 Castalia.
  • In 1993, pulsar PSR B1257+12 by Polish Astronomer Aleksander Wolszczan. It later led him to the discovery of three planets orbiting the pulsar. This was the first time an exoplanet was found.
  • In 2008, detection of prebiotic molecules methenamine and hydrogen cyanide were reported from the observatory’s radio spectroscopy measurements of the distant starburst galaxy Arp 220.

This news has not only saddened the scientists who have worked at the Arecibo observatory, but even the residents of Puerto Rico are also shocked. The telescope was a major tourist attraction, driving over 90,000 tourists every year. No doubt, it’s an end of an era!

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