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The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico collapses when a cable breaks


The prestigious radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which has played a key role in astronomical discoveries for more than half a century, has collapsed.

A cable holding a 900-ton receiver platform snapped Tuesday morning around 8 a.m. local time, sending the massive structure onto the reflector cup more than 400 feet below it.

The Arecibo Observatory suffered another outage in August when an auxiliary cable broke, cutting 100 feet into the 1,000 foot wide dish and damaging the receiver platform above it.

At the beginning of November, a main cable that sealed the fate of the legendary telescope failed – officials were supposed to shut it down after 57 years of service.

The Arecibo Observatory is famous for spotting swirling pulsars, mapping geological features of Mars, and helping astronomers discover the near-Earth asteroid Bennu. It also appeared in the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye.

The giant telescope was also used in programs searching for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI), as its position gave scientists access to a third of the cosmos.

The recent collapse has baffled many experts who had relied on the world's largest radio telescope until recently.

The Arecibo Observatory is pictured in 2003 before it fell apart

The prestigious radio telescope at the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, which has played a key role in astronomical discoveries for more than half a century, has collapsed

& # 39; It sounded like a rumble. I knew exactly what it was, ”said Jonathan Friedman, who worked as a senior research fellow at the observatory for 26 years and still lives nearby.

I screamed. Personally, I was out of control … I have no words to express. It's a very deep, terrible feeling. & # 39;

After hearing the distant roar, Friedman said he ran up a small hill near his house and saw a thick cloud of dust hanging over the position of the telescope – which confirmed his suspicions and his greatest fear.

The SETI institute said goodbye to the telescope personally on November 20th when Arecibo was only to be "taken apart and stowed away".

Seth Shostak, Senior Astronomer, wrote: “Losing Arecibo is like losing a big brother. As life goes on, something powerful and deeply wonderful has disappeared. & # 39;

A cable holding a 900-ton receiver platform snapped, sending the massive fling onto the reflector cup more than 400 feet below

A cable holding a 900-ton receiver platform snapped, sending the massive fling onto the reflector cup more than 400 feet below

The collapse ends 57 years of the Arecibo Observatory, which has discovered swirling pulsars, mapped geological features of Mars, and contributed to the discovery of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu

The collapse ends 57 years of the Arecibo Observatory, which has discovered swirling pulsars, mapped geological features of Mars, and contributed to the discovery of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu

Scientists had feared that the telescope would collapse in a week or two due to mechanical problems that year. Pictured is an aerial view of the destruction

Scientists had feared that the telescope would collapse in a week or two due to mechanical problems that year. Pictured is an aerial view of the destruction

Twitter users also mourn the breakdown and share pictures showing the thick smoke after the cable break

At the beginning of November a main cable broke and sealed the fate of the legendary telescope. The recent collapse has baffled many scientists who had relied on the world's largest radio telescope until recently

At the beginning of November a main cable broke and sealed the fate of the legendary telescope. The recent collapse has baffled many scientists who had relied on the world's largest radio telescope until recently. Twitter users also mourn the breakdown and share pictures showing the thick smoke after the cable break

Ramon Lugo, director of the Florida Space Institute at the University of Central Florida, which manages the 57-year-old radio telescope for the National Science Foundation (NSF), told Science Magazine that they are speculating on one of the remaining cables the platform is attached to One of three support towers is snapped – all cables were strained due to the added weight.

In addition to identifying cosmic wonders, the Arecibo Observatory made an appearance in the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye

In addition to identifying cosmic wonders, the Arecibo Observatory made an appearance in the 1995 James Bond film GoldenEye

Lugo also notes that he warned NSF that the telescope would be sure to collapse for the next week or two after Thanksgiving as several wires break apart.

Arecibo had experienced hurricanes, tropical humidity, and a series of earthquakes in its 57 years of operation, but it was mechanical failures that finally brought it to a standstill.

Shortly after Hurricanes Irma and Maria pierced the island and damaged the observatory, it received a $ 2 million grant in 2018.

However, between 2001 and 2006, NASA reduced its support for the planetary device and then eliminated it entirely.

The American Spaced Agency had a change of heart in 2010 and made the observatory $ 2 million a year available – mainly to study near-Earth objects.

Although the small budget helped Arecibo get through, NSF proposed shutting it down in 2015 and 2016, saying it would continue to reduce funding over the years.

The move sparked anger in the scientific community, raising concerns about the number of scientific discoveries that would be lost if the massive telescope were shut down.

Since then, scientists have harnessed the power of the telescope to track asteroids on their way to Earth, conduct research that led to a Nobel Prize, and determine whether a planet might be habitable.

Arecibo also served as a training facility for a number of doctoral students and attracted around 90,000 visitors annually.

"I'm one of those students who visits it at a young age and gets inspiration," said Abel Méndez, professor of physics and astrobiology at the University of Puerto Rico at Arecibo, who has used the telescope for research purposes.

"The world without an observatory is losing, but Puerto Rico is losing more."

Méndez last used the telescope on August 6, just a few days before a socket with the torn auxiliary cable failed in what experts might believe was a manufacturing defect.

Twitter users shared pictures of the fallen telescope. This picture shows the intact cable (below). The picture above shows the day after with the platform missing

Twitter users shared pictures of the fallen telescope. This picture shows the intact cable (below). The picture above shows the day after with the platform missing

The telescope was built in the 1960s with Defense Department funds to develop ballistic missile defense

The telescope was built in the 1960s with Defense Department funds to develop ballistic missile defense

The NFS, which owns the observatory, which is managed by the University of Central Florida, said the crews evaluated the structure after the first incident, but found that the remaining cables could carry the extra weight.

While the observatory was waiting for the delivery of two replacement cables and two temporary cables, another main cable on the same tower broke on November 6th.

This tore a new hole in the shell and damaged nearby cables, warning officials the entire structure could collapse.

"The management of the Arecibo Observatory and the UCF have mastered this situation commendably, acted swiftly and pursued all possible options to save this incredible instrument," said Ralph Gaume, director of the Astronomical Sciences division of NSF.

"In the end, an excess of data showed that we just couldn't do this safely and that this is a line we can't cross."

About 250 scientists worldwide had been using the observatory when it closed in August, including Méndez, who was studying stars to find habitable planets.

"I'm trying to recover," he said. "I am still very concerned."

One of the telescope's remaining cables snapped Tuesday morning. It supported a 900-ton platform that crashed 400 feet below the reflector shell

One of the telescope's remaining cables snapped Tuesday morning. It supported a 900-ton platform that crashed 400 feet below the reflector shell

The Arecibo Observatory was slated to close after the auxiliary cable tore in August, which made a 100-foot cut in the 1,000-foot-wide dish and damaged the receiver platform above it. At the beginning of November a main cable that sealed the fate of the legendary telescope broke - officials were supposed to shut it down after 57 years of service

The Arecibo Observatory was slated to close after the auxiliary cable tore in August, which made a 100-foot cut in the 1,000-foot-wide dish and damaged the receiver platform above it. At the beginning of November a main cable that sealed the fate of the legendary telescope broke – officials were supposed to shut it down after 57 years of service

Cable breaks (pictured) tore holes in the structure and led to the final decision to take Arecibo out of service. The photo was taken on November 7th

Cable breaks (pictured) tore holes in the structure and led to the final decision to take Arecibo out of service. The photo was taken on November 7th

The telescope was instrumental in the discovery of the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in 1999, which laid the foundation for NASA to send a robotic probe there to collect and ultimately return its first asteroid debris sample about two decades later.

In 1974, scientists discovered swirling pulsars with Arecibo – the first evidence of gravitational waves – and received the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Pulsars are neutron stars – the collapsed nuclei of giant stars – that emit beams of radiation that sweep through the Earth's line of sight.

Alex Wolszczan, a Polish-born astronomer and professor at Pennsylvania State University, discovered the pulsar PSR B1257 + 12 with Arecibo in 1990.

"I was hoping against hope that they would find a solution to keep it open," he told The Associated Press.

"For a person who has associated much of their scientific life with this telescope, this is a rather interesting and sadly emotional moment."

In 1998, on July 28, the Arecibo Observatory found the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft after losing communication with the European Space Agency and NASA.

Arecibo threw back a radar signal from SOHO so its mission can resume, and SOHO is still producing data to this day.

A picture from the GoldenEye shoot: Izabella Scorupco, who plays computer programmer Natalya Simonova and Pierce Brosnan as 007, is filmed on the observatory's huge satellite dish

A picture from the GoldenEye shoot: Izabella Scorupco, who plays computer programmer Natalya Simonova and Pierce Brosnan as 007, is filmed on the observatory's huge satellite dish

Damage in August from a broken cable supporting a metal platform and causing a 30-meter cut in the reflector shell of the radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico

Damage in August from a broken cable supporting a metal platform and causing a 30-meter cut in the reflector shell of the radio telescope in Arecibo, Puerto Rico

The striking observatory was the site of the dramatic climax of GoldenEye, with Pierce Brosnan as 007.

Bond and computer programmer Natalya Simonova, played by Izabella Scorupco, slide across the observatory's giant satellite dish and avoid gunshots in a memorable scene.

Later, the film's antagonist, the broken MI6 agent Alec Trevelyan, played by Sean Bean, meets his fate when Bond drops him from the observatory's antenna array, which then explodes and collapses on him.

The observatory had another high-profile film appearance two years later – in the 1997 science fiction film Contact, Jodie Foster played Dr. Ellie Arroway, who works for Arecibo in search of extraterrestrial intelligence.

ARECIBO OBSERVATION HISTORY

1963: Arecibo Ionospheric Observatory Commissioned November 1st for $ 9.7 million.

1965: One of his first achievements was to find the rate of rotation of mercury, which turned out to be 59 days rather than the previously estimated 88 days.

1968: Sporadic radio pulses from the direction of the supernova remnant of the Crab Nebula found at Green Bank originate from Arecibo and originate from a pulsar with a period of 33 msec located in the center of the nebula.

1974: New high-precision surface reflector installed, planetary radar transmitter installed.

1974: The first pulsar in a binary system was discovered, leading to an important confirmation of Einstein's general theory of relativity and a 1993 Nobel Prize for astronomers Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor.

1974: On November 16, the & # 39; Arecibo message & # 39; sent into space in the direction of the globular cluster M13, 25,000 light years away.

The main purpose of the message was to demonstrate the capabilities of newly installed equipment in the upgraded radio telescope and to contact extraterrestrial intelligence.

1979: In the early hours of the morning, a large, anomalous ionospheric wandering fault (i.e., a wave in the upper atmosphere) was detected moving from southeast to northwest – something researchers had never seen before. Data helped define the likely cause as a nuclear air explosion over the Indian Ocean.

1981: First radar maps of the geological surface of Venus are created.

1982: The discovery of a strong megamaser emission from the hydroxyl (OH) molecule in the starburst galaxy Arp 220 (IC 4553).

1982: The discovery of millisecond pulsars that rotate several hundred times per second. This indicated the existence of two classes of pulsars – the millisecond pulsars and the slower rotating pulsars, which spin about once per second.

1989: The first measurement of the hydrogen leakage flow from the earth is presented on the basis of velocity distribution measurements of the hydrogen air glow emission in the upper atmosphere.

Early 90s: The first planets outside the solar system were discovered around pulsar B1257 + 12, a rapidly rotating pulsar with three Earth-like planets in orbit.

1992: Ice is discovered in shady craters on Mercury's North Pole in October. Later observations show ice in south polar craters as well.

1996: A layer of helium ions is shown to be a common but previously unrecognized feature in the low latitude ionosphere near 600 km.

1998: Arecibo Observatory "found" the Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) spacecraft on July 28th after it lost communication with the European Space Agency and NASA. by bouncing a radar signal from the satellite. SOHO's mission has resumed and is still producing data today.

May 2000: Radar observations of the asteroid 216 Cleopatra show a metal-rich object in the form of a dog bone.

September 2000: Discovery that 2000 DP107 was the first near-Earth asteroid identified as a binary system by radar. The primary is roughly spherical, half a mile in diameter, and the smaller secondary, which it orbits in 1.8 days, is about 1,000 feet tall.

2003: The planetary radar of the observatory is used to create indications of hydrocarbon lakes on the Saturn satellite Titan.

April 2004: Installation of the Arecibo L-Band Feed Array, which enables a variety of astronomical investigations, including discovering pulsars, mapping the gas in our galaxy and searching for other galaxies.

2005-2012: Radar imaging of Mars reveals lava flows and near-surface geological features that cannot be seen in visible images. This offers new insights into Martian surface geology.

2006: The search for water ice in the permanent shadow of the Moon Shackleton Crater disputes evidence of water ice on the lunar surface.

October 2006: Radar images of the south pole of the moon show no evidence of thick ice deposits.

November 2006: Radar images of the binary asteroid (66391) 1999 KW4 in May 2001 and again in June 2002 show exotic physical and dynamic properties that can often occur in near-earth binary files.

March 2007: Radar images of Mercury reveal features that the Messenger spaceship will need to investigate further over the next few years.

2007: The near-Earth asteroid 2005 PH5 has been observed to have an increasing spin rate due to uneven absorption and emission of solar radiation.

2007: In the distant "starburst galaxy" Arp 220, previously undiscovered radio lines of the molecule hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and the presence of the molecule methanimine (CH2NH) were discovered.

February 2008: Discovery of the first triple asteroid system among the near-Earth asteroids. The asteroid, 2001 SN263, is approximately 1.5 miles in diameter and orbited by two moons.

2008–2012: Observations discover a radio outbreak in the nearby galaxy NGC 660, ten times brighter than a radio supernova.

2011: Observations of brown dwarfs find the coldest star showing radio emission.

November 2011: Radar imaging of the near-earth asteroid 2005 YU55, which made a very close flyby. This dark, spherical asteroid was found to be approximately 1,148 feet in diameter.

2012: An ion-neutral chemistry model was developed to successfully describe thin layers of neutral metal atoms at altitudes over 100 km.

Further information: National Center for Astronomy and Ionosphere

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