Iconic Arecibo radio telescope has collapsed

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The striking and well-known Arecibo radio telescope in Puerto Rico collapsed after the cables came loose. The telescope was recently badly damaged in a storm, after which the decision was taken to dismantle it.

Due to the release of the cables, the large set of instruments that hung above the dish, collapsed. That instrumentation was connected by cables to three poles and contained the radio receiver, which could move along rails to listen to different regions of the sky. Being on Twitter images appeared which shows that the 900-ton construction has fallen into the dish and the cables have also disappeared. The radio receiver was located 137 meters above the dome, which has a diameter of 350 meters.

The administrator of the Arecibo Observatory, the National Science Foundation, confirms that the hanging platform has come down. The foundation’s technicians are still investigating the impact. Construction problems started in August when a cable came loose from the telescope. It was then decided to stabilize the structure. That proved to be insufficient, because a cable was released again on 6 November.

This increased the pressure on the remaining cables and there were fears that the scaffolding would collapse. Repairing would be a difficult job, as it turned out after an analysis, because it would lead to life-threatening situations. On November 19, the decision was therefore already taken to dismantle the Arecibo radio telescope.

The collapse puts a sad end to the radio telescope, which was built in the 1960s to investigate the ionosphere. Soon after, the telescope was used for more purposes. For example, the telescope helped provide the first evidence for neutron stars and binary pulsars. Arecibo also played a major role in the quests for extraterrestrial life, listening to radio signals from space as part of the SETI project. Conversely, in 1974 the ‘Arecibo message’ was thrown into space: a message of 1679 bits that represents, among other things, the telescope, DNA and a human.

Due to its function and striking appearance, the telescope has appeared in several Hollywood productions: the James Bond film Goldeneye, Cosmos, Contact, X-Files and Species. The Battlefield 4 game also includes a map with a telescope inspired by Arecibo.

Arecibo in better times

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