The platform chamber was full of electronics – some supercooled. It was suspended high above the lush tropical rain forest in the northwest corner of Puerto Rico. Since its construction in 1963, the telescope structure has served both realms of scientific discovery as well as science fiction including shows like the X-Files, James Bond, and others. After yesterday's collapse, though, its long heritage will be relegated to history.
According to a tweet from the National Science Foundation, the instrument platform of the 305m telescope at Arecibo Observatory fell overnight. No injuries were reported.
Several pictures of the observatory have appeared on Twitter, showing that the 900-ton platform normally suspended above the observatory was no longer there. As it was suspended over the telescope’s giant 1,000-foot-wide dish, both the RF platform above and reflector dish below were destroyed.
A meteorologist in Puerto Rico, Deborah Martorell, tweeted early Tuesday: "Friends, it is with deep regret to inform you that the Arecibo Observatory platform has just collapsed."
The loss of the observatory platform was expected after key cables that held the telescope dish in place broke late last summer. As reported in Design News, a large cable had snapped and punched a hole into the giant reflector disk. According to a press release from the University of Central Florida (UCF) – the current managers of the observatory –the cable caused, “a 100-foot-long gash on the telescope’s reflector dish.” Operations at the observatory were stopped until repairs can be made.
Since that time, another cable failed. On November 19th, NSF engineers announced that the remaining cables at Arecibo were in danger of failing, which would likely cause the suspended platform to collapse. The agency decided to try to demolish the entire observatory in as safe and controlled a manner as possible. But last night, gravity and mechanical fatigue finished the job. Since the facility had been off-limits for some time now, there were no reported injuries after the collapse.
Sadly, no one will ever be able to again enjoy the visual beauty or even a tour of the suspended observatory. But ten years ago, I was fortunate to visit the platform as part of my editorial tour of the complex. The video below captures portions of the platform chamber and gives a sense of its position high above the rain forest floor.
If you’d like to urge the NSF to repair the Arecibo Observatory, please see the petition on Change.org.
John Blyler is a Design News senior editor, covering the electronics and advanced manufacturing spaces. With a BS in Engineering Physics and an MS in Electrical Engineering, he has years of hardware-software-network systems experience as an editor and engineer within the advanced manufacturing, IoT and semiconductor industries. John has co-authored books related to system engineering and electronics for IEEE, Wiley, and Elsevier.