Drone Video Captures Famous Arecibo Observatory’s Collapse

Update 12/3/20:

The Arecibo Observatory has collapsed. The massive tool fell onto the dish below. And the NSF shared videos capturing the moment (one courtesy of an installed camera and one from aerial drones). The above video shows the cables as the instrument crashes below. No one was hurt in this incident.

Original post:

The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, made famous in the films GoldenEye, Species, and Contact, is set to be demolished. Engineers have decided to destroy the 1,000-foot-wide radio telescope due to damage. It’s not necessarily irreparable, but it would endanger lives to fix. Which makes sense, as we’ve all seen what happened to Alec Trevelyan when he fell into that sucker in the James Bond film.

In a press release, which comes via Gizmodo, the National Science Foundation (NSF) announced the forthcoming demolition. Originally, engineers had actually planned on repairing the telescope back to normal functionality. But after multiple cables holding the telescope in place failed—successively—the engineers switched plans.

“Leadership at Arecibo Observatory … did a commendable job addressing this situation, acting quickly and pursuing every possible option to save this incredible instrument,” Ralph Gaume said in NSF’s press release. Gaume, the director of NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences, added that “in the end, [however,] a preponderance of data showed that we simply could not do this safely.”

The famous 1,000-foot-wide Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico

University of Central Florida

In the images above, you can see the series of cables holding up the telescope’s 1.8-million-pound receiver. (For reference, a 747 weighs approximately 735,000 pounds.) Apparently, one of the auxiliary cables connecting the receiver to three gigantic concrete towers surrounding it broke in August of this year. Then, during the process of fixing it, another one unexpectedly broke as well.

Looking forward, engineers and observatory officials say they want to preserve as much of the telescope’s peripheral assets as possible. Although we can’t imagine its gigantic dish will remain in place. And certainly not the receiver that hangs 450 feet above it. But while it’s time to say goodbye to the Arecibo Observatory, we can still celebrate its greatness. Not only by reflecting on all of its contributions to radio astronomy and atmospheric science, but also its film career. In that spirit, below is a clip from GoldenEye featuring the soon-to-be-gone beauty.

Featured Image: University of Central Florida

Originally published on November 19, 2020.

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