Astronomers and space enthusiasts around the world are still mourning the loss of Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory, which collapsed on Tuesday after its instrument platform fell and crashed through the telescope dish.
Drone footage of Arecibo’s devastating collapse, released on Thursday by the National Science Foundation (NSF), which owns the observatory, reveals the horrible moment when the main cables holding up the suspended platform snapped in short succession.
The enormous 900-ton structure plunged down into the beloved dish that has spent decades capturing radio waves from objects in outer space and scanning the skies for signs of intelligent alien life. While the observatory was left in ruin by the platform’s fall, fortunately nobody at the site was injured.
“The Arecibo 305-meter telescope has been part of our NSF Science family for approximately 50 years, and we will miss it,” said Ralph Gaume, director of NSF’s Division of Astronomical Sciences, in a press conference on Thursday. “NSF felt that the Arecibo telescope had a bright future, with many impressive science results yet to come.”
These plans, along with so many other hopes for Arecibo, were dashed by two cable breaks, one in August and a second in November, that tore through the dish and destabilized the entire structure, leading to its collapse on Tuesday.
It’s not clear what the future of Arecibo will be, but NSF is optimistic that its visitor’s center and the LIDAR facility could remain in operation once the site has been cleared of hazards. But Gaume said it was too soon to say whether the giant reflector dish and its instrument platform will ever be rebuilt and revived.
“The collapse just occurred Tuesday morning and we need a full accounting of how stable the site is,” he said. “That's our immediate focus [going] forward.”