Puerto Rico’s Arecibo telescope, once the largest in the world in the U.S. and Canada, crashes


For five decades, the Arecibo was the world’s largest single-aperture telescope used to study distant planets and search for asteroids.

A huge telescope on the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico – located at the Arecibo Observatory and deteriorating since August – collapsed on Tuesday, officials said after 57 years of astronomical discovery.

The 900-tonne dashboard of the radio telescope, suspended by 137-meter cables over a 305-meter-wide (1,000-foot) bowl-shaped reflective vessel with 137-meter cables, fell Tuesday morning, the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) said. There was no injury, he added.

One of the world’s largest telescopes has been used by scientists around the world for decades to study distant planets, search for potentially dangerous asteroids, and hunt for possible signatures of extraterrestrial life.

He has also starred in two American films, starring GoldenEye Pierce Brosnan in James Bond and in 1995, as well as Contact, with actors Jodie Foster and Matthew McConaughey two years later.

Arecibo Observatory space telescope, seen from satellite over Arecibo in Puerto Rico [File: Planet/Handout via Reuters]

A cable holding two reflective vessels has been broken since August, leaving a gap in the vessel and the site unsafe, forcing officials to close the observatory. NSF, which helped manage the telescope, said in November that efforts to improve the structure were too dangerous and should be dismantled.

“NSF is saddened by this development,” the independent federal agency wrote on Twitter. “As we move forward, we are looking for ways to help the scientific community and maintain close ties with the people of Puerto Rico.”

When it announced its closure last month, NSF said “the telescope will serve as an inspiration to Puerto Rican residents, considering education and employment at STEM [science, technology, engineering and mathematics]”.

Michael Wiltberger, head of the NSF Geospace section, said in the same statement that the observatory “helped transform understanding of the ionosphere, showing how density, composition and other factors interact to shape this critical region where the Earth’s atmosphere meets the space ”.

NSF’s original plan was to demolish the site with the aim of “aiming to preserve the remaining infrastructure of the Arecibo Observatory as much as possible for future research and educational missions”.