The radio telescope at Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory is on its way to extinction after 57 years of sparking dreams of alien contact — and after a grim three years of weathering nature’s blows.
Two of the cables supporting the telescope’s 900-ton instrument platform have slipped loose, ripping through the 1,000-foot-wide web of aluminum panels and steel cables that’s spread 450 feet below.
Engineers assessed the damage and determined that the risk of a catastrophic failure was too great to attempt repairs. If more cables snap, the entire platform could crash down, potentially causing the dish’s collapse and life-threatening injuries to workers.
“Although it saddens us to make this recommendation, we believe the structure should be demolished in a controlled way as soon as pragmatically possible, ” Thornton Tomasetti, the engineering firm that made the structural assessment, said in its recommendations to the National Science Foundation and the University of Central Florida, which manages operations at Arecibo on the NSF’s behalf.
“It is therefore our recommendation to expeditiously plan for decommissioning of the observatory and execute a controlled demolition of the telescope,” the firm said.
After consulting with other engineering firms and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, NSF decided to go ahead with the decommissioning.
“NSF prioritizes the safety of workers, Arecibo Observatory’s staff and visitors, which makes this decision necessary, although unfortunate,” NSF Director Sethuraman Panchanathan said in a statement.