It is a sad day for the astronomer. The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, home of the epic telescope dish, says goodbye. The observatory suffered serious structural damage when a cable broke down in August, and the situation worsened.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) announced Thursday that it will begin plans to decommission the 305-meter (1,000-foot) telescope, ending 57 years of service for the device.
“The decision comes after NSF has evaluated multiple evaluations by independent engineering firms and found that the telescope structure is at risk of catastrophic failure and that its cables may not be able to carry the loads they are designed to support,” NSF said in a statement.
The second cable failed in early November. This was a main cable that broke and fell into the inverter dish, damaging both the dish and other adjacent cables. The cables are designed to support a 900-ton platform suspended 450 feet above the plate.
“Each of the remaining cables in the hull now supports more weight than before, which increases the likelihood of another cable failure, which is likely to lead to the collapse of the entire structure,” the University of Central Florida said in a statement on November 13th. UCF manages the National Science Foundation facility.
It was the background observatory for a dramatic fight scene in the 1995 James Bond movie GoldenEye with Pierce Brosnan. It also appeared in the 1997 film Contact Jodie Foster. But Arecibo’s true legacy lies in the many scientific discoveries that made it possible. Explore pulsars, expand our knowledge of Mercury, spot exoplanets, and find rapid radio bursts.
Scientists took to Twitter to mourn the observatory. “That’s a huge scientific punch. End of an era,” Planetary scientist Tania Harrison said.
Field geophysicist Mika McKinnon tweeted, “I was shocked that we lost Arecibo. Even if you don’t care much about terrestrial astronomy, you know this telescope from pop culture and movies. It’s a special place somewhere.”
The NSF decommissioning plan will focus on the telescope while trying to preserve the surrounding observatory structures. “When all necessary preparations are made, the telescope will undergo controlled dismantling,” the foundation said.
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