Today, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released shocking footage of the collapse of the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico. The video, recorded on December 1, shows the moment when the support cables broke, causing a huge 900-ton structure suspended over the Arecibo to fall on the observatory’s iconic 1,000-foot-wide vessel.
Video footage of the crash was recorded by a camera at Arecibo’s Operations Control Center and a drone above the platform at the time of the crash. The drone operator was able to adjust the drone’s camera as soon as the platform began to fall and captured the moment of the collision. NSF, which oversees Arecibo, has watched the observatory with drones for hours since engineers warned the structure was about to collapse in November. “I think we were just lucky and the drone operator saw very skillfully what was going on and was able to rotate the camera,” Ashley Zauderer, NSF program manager at Arecibo Observatory, said at a news conference.
The recording highlights the moment when several cables popped up, causing the platform to swing outward and reach the side of the pot. The crash also brought down the tops of the three support towers surrounding Arecibo, where the cables were connected to keep the platform in the air. “The cables that go from the top of Tower 4 to the platform are very faint in camera view, but they are there,” said John Abruzzo, a contractor at engineering consultancy Thornton Tomasetti, rented by the University of Central Florida. “So those cables appear first near the top of the tower, and then after they fail, the platform loses its stability and starts to descend,” Abruzzo said, describing the first video from the control center.
The collapse of Arecibo came as no surprise. After two power cords failed in both August and November, the engineers concluded that there was no safe way to repair the Arecibo and that the platform could fall on the vessel at any time. NSF had hoped that the binoculars would be dismantled in a controlled manner before that happened, but the collapse took place before any action could have taken place.
Now the NSF is trying to figure out a way forward, which is mainly about figuring out how to safely clean up Arecibo. Engineers should make a full environmental assessment of the area and find out how stable the remaining structures are.
Replacing Arecibo would be a much longer process, with decisions by lawmakers. “In terms of exchange, NSF has a very well-defined process for financing and building large-scale infrastructure, including binoculars,” said Ralph Gaume, director of NSF’s astronomy division., said. “This is a multi-year process that includes congressional appropriations as well as an assessment of the scientific community and needs. So it is very early to comment on the exchange. “